We find it normal when boys mess around with plastic popguns and girls play with floral patterned tea sets. But if they trade toys, most of us are overcome with uneasiness, shock, or even anger. Experts say that kids grow into well-rounded adults if their parents allow them to explore all possibilities – and this includes stripping them of gender biases. Therefore, seeing your baby girl play with toy cars and Junior play with Barbie Dolls shouldn't be viewed as a threat, but as an avenue for children to reach their full potential.
Children begin to form their own concept of gender identity – or the sense of being a boy or a girl – by age one. Some say gender identity is biologically determined. Most psychologists, however, believe that gender identity is determined by environmental factors, particularly in the way parents, relatives, and peers treat children. Once a child's gender identity is established, "gender stability" takes place – which is when children develop gender-typical behaviors.
Though physically different, both girls and boys should be given equal opportunities to develop their potentials to the fullest. Doing so boosts their self-image and emotional stability. By removing gender stereotypes, you allow your children to explore and develop latent gifts and talents that could otherwise be left untapped.
It is possible to raise children who are not 'sexist' in their points of view, who have respect for both males and females. Positive parent and teacher child interactions are crucial in forming bias-free outlooks, attitudes, and actions in children. For instance, encourage both boys and girls to keep their rooms clean, fold their own clothes, and put their shoes in place. Just because a woman usually cleans up the mess, it doesn't mean that only females perform these chores. Also, mom and dad should switch household chores once in a while. Dad can do the cooking or iron the clothes, while mom takes out the trash or washes the car.
Allow both girls and boys to express their emotions. A boy has as much right to break out in tears as a girl has to show assertive behavior in venting her frustration. In addition, boys should be taught to be nurturing and compassionate, while praise and courage should be instilled in girls.
Prompting Gender-Issue Discussions for Kids
While watching a movie or TV show, ask your kids these questions:
- Count all the characters in the show. How many are girls? How many are boys?
- Do the boys act differently from the girls? How? Why do you think that is the case?
- How many characters in the show were aggressive or violent? How many of the aggressive or violent characters were boys?
- Which character do you want to be? Why?
- What did you like about the show? Did anything in the show bother you?
The above questions will help you better introduce gender sensitivity to your child. In fact, these questions not only promote equality but also instill in your child the values of being sensitive to other people's natures, as well as a sense of personal responsibility. This way, you allow him or her to think for himself or herself, instead of relying on other people for opinions all the time.