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

Your Baby & Toddler - - Contents -

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

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