WIN!! Disney is giving away one Tangled Rapunzel doll–see bottom of post for details.
Are trucks for boys and dolls for girls? Does society say it’s okay for your boy’s favorite color to be pink? Breezy Mama Contributing Editor, Robyn Lass, finds out. . .
I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering how gender identity develops in young kids. As a mother to a preschool age boy who adores “The Little Mermaid” I was starting to feel a little confused about what I should or shouldn’t say when he asked to play with toys that typically fell into the “for girls” category.
I needed some answers so I went to child psychology expert Linnda Durre, Ph.D. A former nursery school teacher, now a psychotherapist with her own practice, she had some great insight and suggestions for parents curious about gender identity and the toys our kids choose.
At what age do children begin to differentiate gender?
Preschool age – around 4 years old – you can hear them say, “That’s for girls!” or “That’s for boys!”
How can parents, teachers and caretakers best help them understand the concept of gender?
Parents should be open and encouraging about limitless capabilities of boys and girls – men and women – from astronauts to caregivers to fire fighters. Show them photos, take them to museums, read books with precedent setters in gender, like Sally Ride as an astronaut as well as male astronauts, chefs who are male AND female, dress designers who are male AND female, etc.
Bathroom separation is a good way to teach children about boys and girls needing separate facilities.
As a former nursery school teacher, what did you observe in the classroom when it came to playtime and gender identity?
Girls gravitated more toward the doll corner and the playhouse, unless they coerced or corralled some little boy to play “the husband” while playing house. Some boys volunteered to play – other boys wanted no part of it and wanted to be outside playing when they could.
Boys gravitated towards playing with trucks, using trikes–large muscle activities in general, climbing, etc.
Both liked books, art projects, reading, learning ABC’s and numbers, playing outside, tag, etc.
Is this a controversial topic among child experts?
I think it is an important area to be studied and feminist oriented psychologists, researchers, etc. may have made this a topic of interest – what is defined as “Male” and what is defined as “Female.” It is also the nature vs. nurture argument. What is hormonal, biochemical, genetic vs. learned behavior, role modeling, etc.?
Are there things parents should or shouldn’t do during these developmental years as children start to choose what they like to play with? i.e., if a boy likes to play with dolls and/or a girl likes to play with army men, what’s the best tactic for a parent?
Many therapists might say that the parents’ worst fear of a little boy playing with dolls is that they may worry that their child is gay and for some parents who are of certain religions, they may feel it is wrong, perverted, sick, bad, Satan’s work, etc.
Many times, what a parent makes taboo or a “no-no” only creates even more interest, fascination, and even obsession with something.
I would say ASK the child WHY they like playing with certain toys, dolls, and games. Find out what their interests are, their motivations, their curiosity and help them explore their interests. Observe their play. If they feel the child is depressed, too angry, lethargic, etc., perhaps a child therapist may be of help. There may be a need for vitamins, better nutrition, etc.
Other points to ponder – Why is G.I. Joe called an “action figure” and not a doll?!?! It may be because parents may be concerned that their little boys will become gay if they play with “dolls” but calling it an action figure is macho, masculine, and heterosexual rather than anything that may convey femininity. A little girl who is a “tom boy” is more acceptable than a little boy who is a “sissy.” It has to do with power and gender.
And when and how do they start to typically associate certain things (clothing, toys, etc.) as “for boys” or “for girls”?
I’ve heard nursery schoolers can say “That’s for boys!” or “That’s for girls!”—there is a gender awareness at an early age.
How should parents respond to statements like “that’s for boys” or “that’s for girls” from their preschooler?
Parents and teachers can say, “Well, some boys like to play with that. It’s not just for girls” or “Girls can play that game, too. It’s not just for boys.” They need to encourage open mindedness in their own children and, if they are teachers – in their students.
Is there any reason to believe that toys children choose in early years affect their understanding of gender or their sexual orientation down the road?
Some researchers feel sexual preference is bio-chemical, hormonal, and has nothing to do with what toys they play with when they’re young. Many gay clients I know say they knew they were “different” or attracted to others of their own gender or many say they knew they were gay when they were as young as 4-10 years old.
As a rule of thumb, should parents be open to allowing their children the option to explore all types of toys and play?
YES! Limiting children’s curiosity and interests only stifles their intelligence, creativity, competence, assertiveness, and mastery.
If you refer to the Bem Research and Bem Scales – (Sandra Bem, Ph.D. and Daryl Bem, Ph.D. who were at Stanford University when they did this research as I recall) – they found that the most adept, flexible, self-reliant people had a solid mix of “feminine traits” and “masculine traits” – could earn their own money, change a diaper, cook a meal, do their laundry, etc. – I’m shortening and paraphrasing years of research.
I believe it was Florence Kennedy who said, (and I may be paraphrasing here), “The only gender related professions are wet nurse and sperm donor.” LOL
Are there any books on this topic that you’d like to recommend for parents?
“Beyond Dolls & Guns – 101 Ways to Help Children Avoid Gender Bias,” by Susan Hoy Crawford. $17.13. Click here to purchase.
“Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps — And What We Can Do About It” – Lise Eliot, Ph.D. $10.17. Click here to purchase.
About Linda: Linnda Durre’, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist in private practice in Orlando, Florida. She holds three K-6 teaching credentials (NY, NJ and CA) and has taught in nursery school, kindergarten and first grade. She can be contacted at 407-739-8620 or by email at Linnda.Durre@gmail.com and on www.experts.com.
Breezy Mama Note: For those of you who have sons that would rather wear sparkles, dresses and anything pink, you may want to check out the book “My Princess Boy.” My Princess Boy opens a dialogue about embracing uniqueness, and teaches you and others how to accept young boys who might cross traditional gender line clothing expectations. $12.60. Click here to purchase.
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WIN!! Disney is giving away one Tangled Rapunzel doll to a lucky Breezy Mama reader. For chance to win, tell us (in the comment section below) if your child sticks to their gender’s toys while playing. One comment will be chosen at random. This contest is now closed.