Gender stereotypes Expectation around gender roles are relaxing
Even the most relaxed dad can get a bit worried when his son plays with a doll or wants to wear his mother’s clothes. But just like the traditional gender roles when it comes to Mom and Dad are fading, so are the expectations when it comes to boys and gir
YOU ONLY HAVE TO LOOK at the toys you used to play with as a child to notice how the approach to toys has changed. Thirty years ago boys had a much larger variety of toys to play with compared to girls: spatial toys (blocks and magnets), sports equipment (cricket bats and a variety of balls), toy animals, soldiers, guns and vehicles (cars, trucks and tractors). Girls’ toys largely fitted into three categories: dolls, clothes and household items such as pots and pans and appliances.
Despite the fact that marketers are escalating the artificial division of the pink vs blue aisle to a level of hysteria, Cape Town clinical psychologist Sumarie Silva says traditional gender roles are busy changing. “Children are crossing the lines of gender roles more and more through play and parents are moving away from traditional gender roles when it comes to buying toys.”
Don’t stop your son when he goes to pamper a doll. This won’t make him any less manly when he grows up, but rather fosters emotional intelligence because it can help develop empathy. In fact, if his father joins the play, even better. He can demonstrate to his son as a role model how to deal with a range of emotions, including caring and empathy.
Encourage your daughter to clamber on the jungle gym. This will teach her to tackle physical challenges from early on. This can’t necessarily be taught playing with traditionally “girly” toys. Still, if you had to give a girl the choice between a gun and a doll, she will most likely choose the doll, says Sumarie. The majority of children do lean towards gender-specific toys.
Girls have a natural flair for nurturing. If you place two children in front of a doll house, the girls are likely to bath the dolls while the boys may identify a fire on the second storey and get two firemen to douse the flames. Most girls go through a pink and frilly phase and boys pretend to be superheroes. There is no need to discourage these stereotypes because it is all part of healthy gender awareness. However, it is important to ensure that your child does not become stuck in a certain gender stereotype.
HELP! MY SON WEARS A DRESS All children love wearing different clothes and playing dress-up, yet many parents (especially fathers) find it difficult to accept if their sons are playing with their mothers’ dresses, shoes and handbags.
For a small percentage of children, however, cross-dressing signals that they may identify with the opposite gender, and you may want to investigate that further with a psychologist, especially if the behaviour is persistent and conflict about it causes the child distress.
“Never stop a boy from dressing up like his mother,” says Sumarie. “You awaken their curiosity in doing the behaviour even more.”
BREAKING BARRIERS THROUGH PLAY Play is important because it aids in a child’s physical, social and emotional development.
“Children learn through play,” says Sumarie. “They learn to interact with their peers and people in the world around them. They learn how to ‘read’ their friends and when to step back to give their friend a chance.”
With the advent of computer games children have developed excellent fine motor skills, but they don’t always develop the necessary skills needed to catch a ball.
Sumarie says it’s important to choose toys that help children use their imagination and develop their creativity. They create a fantasy world in which they learn to overcome their fears and handle challenges.
Sumarie emphasises that it’s important to just let children play instead of focusing on toys that are gender-specific. “While it’s easy to put on a DVD to occupy the kids, try painting outside on a nice day.” You can subtly create opportunities for your child to play games that are outside of their gender roles.
Encourage children to invite friends of the opposite sex on play dates.
“If they play with children of the opposite sex, boys are more likely to do activities like art. Girls on the other hand will engage in ball games and other outdoor activities.” YB