Gender stereotypes can limit children’s growth, development and wellbeing.
At only 15 months old, my son is too young to yet have any concept of gender. However, I believe that it is not too young to begin creating a home environment free from the limitations of gender stereotypes.
From birth and through toddlerhood, interactions with children can be shaped by their gender. For example, the colours of the nursery, clothes, toys, and the language we use to talk to them and about them. In turn, these gender specific interactions begin to shape a child’s understanding of gender.
Gender stereotypes promote inequality by encouraging boys and girls to conform to traditional ideas of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. This places limitations and restrictions on the way in which children play, their likes and dislikes, their interactions with others, and their developing sense of self.
Research has found that exposing children to gender stereotypes can have profound effects on their future self-esteem, relationships, academic performance, participation in the workforce, and their physical and psychological well-being.
By the age of 3, children begin to demonstrate perceptions about gender, including expectations and differences. This highlights the importance of laying the foundations for addressing gender stereotypes before they are well established in a child’s mind.
In order for children to reach their full potential, they need to be given equal opportunities to explore their own individual interests and skills, free from expectations based on their gender.
Children’s understanding of gender is shaped by their experiences and interactions with their family, culture, community and the media. In particular, children look to their parents to learn about the expectations of society and to develop an understanding of acceptable behaviours. Children will model the behaviours and patterns they learn at home.
Here are 5 ways to create an equitable and enriching home environment for your child.
Research has found that adults unintentionally use different language when addressing young boys and girls. Adults tend to comment on a girls appearance by praising their clothing or hair. On the other hand, boys are more frequently praised for their abilities, such as physical performance or academic accomplishments.
Make a conscious effort at home to praise your child on their individual positive qualities and behaviours, irrespective of their gender.
- Toys and Play
Imagination and play are the way in which children learn and develop the skills necessary to succeed in life. Social skills, problem solving, language development, fine and gross motor skills are all fostered through child’s play.
At home, you can maximise your child’s opportunities to learn and develop new and different skills by providing them with a wide variety of toys and play activities.
It is not about forcing girls to play with trucks and boys to play with dolls. It is about providing an environment in which children have equal opportunity to learn and develop, free from gender specific restrictions.
- Interests and Activities
Encourage children to participate in a diverse range of interests and activities, including those that have traditionally been viewed as specifically feminine or masculine. This gives them an opportunity to discover their own individual likes and dislikes, and expands their future possibilities.
Activities such as playing sports, cooking and crafts are fun and beneficial for both boys and girls.
- Equitable Division of Labour
Ensure that the workload at home is divided equitably and is not gender specific. Demonstrate to your children that both men and women are capable and responsible for participating in tasks such as cooking, cleaning, mowing the lawn, paying the bills, etc.
Children need to learn that there is no such thing as ‘men’s jobs’ and ‘women’s job’s’.
- Speak Up
Inevitably your child will encounter instances of gender stereotyping. When this happens, set an example by challenging these behaviours and attitudes.
For example, if you hear someone saying something like “you throw like a girl”, point out that this is an inappropriate thing to say. When it is an age appropriate time to do so, use these moments as teaching opportunities to discuss gender equity.
By taking these steps to create an environment free from the limitations of gender expectations, you are fostering your child’s physical, social, cognitive and emotional development. Let’s value and respect our children’s individuality, and provide them with equal opportunities to reach their full potential!
You may also be interested in reading ‘HEALTHY HABITS: MY BABY FOOD PHILOSOPHY‘.
P.S. I would love to hear how other parents battle gender stereotypes in their homes! Please feel free to comment. x
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