Parents play a vital role in their children’s concepts of what is and what isn’t gender-appropriate behaviour, but the problem with stereotyping the sexes is that it can limit or even restrain your child’s individual preferences and abilities.
Statements such as “All girls love dresses” are not necessarily true. Everyone knows at least one little tomboy who can climb a tree as well as any boy her age.
How can parents avoid gender stereotypes?
- The first step is for parents to be more thoughtful about gender roles and to consider what messages they want to send to their children. What values do you want your son and daughter to have? Once you have a clear idea of what message you want to send, you can make smarter, everyday decisions based on whether they support that message.
- Worry less about what other people think. Focus more on your child’s individual needs and abilities and don’t fret about whether he’ll be teased for his choices. For instance, if your son wants to take dance classes, don’t let your fear of him being teased stop you from signing him up.
- Avoid making stereotypical statements. Saying things like, “Big boys don’t cry”, or “Little girls shouldn’t race around on bikes” may seem harmless, but they do perpetuate unhealthy gender stereotypes.
- Minimise emphasis on appearance and maximise emphasis on skills. Girls get more compliments on their appearance than anything else. Be sure to recognise your daughter’s achievements and abilities. If your daughter shows you a drawing, instead of just saying how pretty it looks, say something like, “Wow, I can see you really put a lot of thought into that”.
- Monitor your child’s media consumption. Be aware of what your kids are watching and listening to, and the messages they are getting. Talk to them about what they are hearing and seeing.
How to raise girls without gender stereotyping:
- Emphasise intelligence, hard work, independence, sensitivity and perseverance. Downplay the importance of appearance and looks. Allow your daughter to develop real interests, abilities and skills.
- Set as high expectations for your daughter as for your son. Encourage determination, ambition and goals.
- Teach healthy competition. Encourage the exhilaration of winning, but don’t always let girls win. Winning builds confidence, losing builds character.
- Encourage your daughter to seek role models in successful women. Help her to be comfortable with maths from preschool by including counting, measuring and scoring activities into play.
- Teach spatial skills through puzzles, games and building activities.
- Be an active role-model for learning and developing your own career.
- Encourage leadership opportunities, responsibilities and make time to talk with and listen to your daughter daily.
Avoid gender stereotyping when raising your son by:
- Showing and teaching your son tenderness, sensitivity and affection from early on. The real lessons about relationships are already learned by age three.
- Communicating with your child often. Speak to your child about his experiences, emotions and day-to-day activities. Encourage him to talk to you and nurture his social skills.
- Spend a lot of time with your son. Make time for family outings, holidays or even simple activities such as playing a game.
- Encouraging your son to help with chores around the house. Let him help you in the kitchen and give him simple tasks to do.
- Finding ways for him to release his physical energy. Let him run and play outside and engage in ball games and outdoor activities.
Remember that you play a vital role in the development of your children. Providing a safe and secure environment in which your son or daughter can safely explore his or her gender, personality, interests and abilities, is more important than any stereotypical ideas of what boys and girls are “supposed” to be like. Who knows? Your son who loves pottering around in the kitchen with you might just be the next celebrity chef.
Our experienced editors work with trained journalists and qualified experts to compile accurate, insightful and helpful information about pregnancy, birth, early childhood development and parenting. Our content is reviewed regularly by our panel of advisors, which include medical doctors and healthcare professionals. Meet the Living & Loving Team and our Online Experts.