Gender stereotypes are a big topic in the media these days — from Jaden Smith wearing gender-bending fashion to Target no longer categorizing toy aisles by gender. The moment we see the sex of the baby on the ultrasound, gender stereotypes creep in, and traditional gender roles — though not always harmful — can limit our children’s developing personalities. It can be challenging to break the boundaries of the pink-and-blue box without bias. So how do you go about raising gender-neutral children and empowering them as individuals?
Here are 4 ways to break gender stereotypes and encourage self-expression at home (and beyond).
1. Focus on benefits.
When buying a toy, consider how it will contribute to your child’s developmental growth. Is it role playing? Building and creating? Motor skills? Linguistic and communication skills? For example, a doll can help both boys and girls learn vocabulary for body parts and can teach them to care for others, which is important in preparing for a younger sibling or even a family pet. Plus, being selective and focusing on benefits, may help you keep your child’s toy collection to the essentials, thus curbing your spending.
2. Dress your child for success.
Your 6 month-old may not need to wear a suit to daycare, but what your child wears can echo stereotypes and shape the way others behave and interact with him or her, ultimately influencing the way your child identifies in society. So it’s never too early to be mindful about your child’s wardrobe selection. Choose colors, patterns and characters that aren’t aligned with a gender, and remember that both girls and boys can appreciate a diverse color palette. Once your children start to express their own preferences, make a habit of presenting a range of options. Finally, if you want to foster equality at the playground, let little girls dress in practical clothes so they can comfortably climb alongside the boys.
3. “Equal opportunity” playtime.
Whether you are exploring after-school activities or planning a playdate, ask yourself, “is this something I’d suggest if I had a daughter or a son?” Encourage activities that teach girls to be active and brave, like skateboarding and climbing. Read stories and make a point of discussing emotions to help boys express their feelings. And if they want to do ballet or gymnastics, that’s ok too! Planning mixed-gender playdates is a great way to let children figure out what they gravitate towards naturally.
4. Mind your tone.
The way you discipline your child, or react to a fall, can reinforce gender stereotypes and condition your child’s behavior. For example, if you panic over your daughter’s scraped knee but shrug at your son’s, you’ll likely get different reactions from them, and your son may end up moving on much faster. So try to eliminate gender-driven tonality. This will allow your children to be true to themselves and not behave the way society expects them to.
Remember that there is no black-and-white answer for how to eliminate gender stereotypes in your household. The point isn’t to eliminate gender, but to free your child from bias as much as possible.
How do you bring mindfulness to your child’s life and minimize stereotypes in your household?