Children learn from a very young age that their behaviour, likes, dislikes and expectations should follow ‘rules’ about male and female roles. However, these ‘rules’ are really only assumptions.
These assumptions may mean identifying with certain toys, activities and role models, and this can limit children. For example, action, construction and technology toys are mainly marketed at boys; social role play and arts and crafts toys are mainly marketed at girls.
Marketing toys in this way is problematic because play is crucial to how children develop and learn about the world. Boys need the chance to practise social skills; and girls to be active and learn spatial and problem-solving skills.
Practical things we can do as parents:
Think about how you speak to children. Often people compliment girls on what they look like and boys on what they are doing, or tell boys not to cry, and girls to ‘smile’ and be ‘nice’. Research indicates that adults are more likely to engage in conversation with girls than boys. They may even use a different tone of voice. It’s good to speak to all children in the in the same way and about the same things. You could practise the following:
1. Tell a girl she’s great because of what she does and not because of how she looks; try, ‘I like your skipping’ not ‘I like your hair’
2. Praise a boy when he shares and displays co-operative behaviour with other children
3. Encourage girls to play in the mud or get sweaty
4. Tell boys it’s OK to be scared, upset or emotional
5. Tell a boy that it’s OK to dress up as a nurse or butterfly and a girl that it’s OK to dress up as a fire-fighter or pirate
Here’s a savvy toy company that are riding the backlash