It probably started at your baby shower. If a girl was on the way, you got piles of pink; if a boy, you got bundles of blue. And from the moment your little one was born, their gender has influenced how people treat them. Studies show that adults describe a newborn wearing pink as “sweet” or “feminine”, but that same baby in blue is “sturdy” or “vigorous.” But your little one is unique, so how can you make sure they aren’t defined by narrow gender stereotypes?
Remember, kids are learning from you at all times, which means the biggest influence on kids’ ideas about gender is what they see at home. If you and your partner enact traditional gender roles, get creative! Show your child that men cook and women fix things. Spend time with friends whose households are different from yours. Comment positively on people who do jobs not typical for their gender, such as male nurses. And ask your child what they think: “That boy grew up to be a nurse. What do you think you’ll grow up to do?”
When it’s time to play, consider gender neutral options. Keep toys like blocks and crayons in rotation with dolls and trucks. Read books together with a child of the opposite gender as the main character. Invite a child of the opposite gender over to play – both kids will be amazed how much they dig each other’s stuff!
Did you know that the compliments you give kids can affect how they perceive gender? Girls in particular receive a lot of specifically feminine encouragement. Adults are more likely to compliment a girl on her looks, clothes, and hair than they are a boy. Similarly, boys are often encouraged to be less emotional because “big boys don’t cry.” Try to compliment children on what they do or say rather than how adorable they are (that’s the hard part!), and help them feel safe sharing their feelings. As kids get older, they’ll probably be thinking a lot about what being a boy or a girl means to them. As always, encourage them to be open and honest with their feelings and questions.
Shopping trips can be a great opportunity to explore what kids feel good wearing, regardless of the garment’s “intended” gender. Some stylish choices, like skinny jeans, can even walk the line between genders. Keep in mind many kids clothing brands offer unisex styles – check out our selection! And remember, it’s great to be a tough guy or a girly girl if that’s what your kid desires. It’s all about encouraging them to be whatever they want to be.