“Boys like blue and darker colors, and girls like pink”
“Girls are more vain than boys”
If you were to ask your children how boys and girls are different, what type of answers would you receive? These responses stem from them internalizing what they see and hear from parents, teachers and their environment. From engaging with their surroundings, children will mold their idea of gender roles and shape perceptions of what is “acceptable”.
As adults near and dear to them, we are responsible for doing our best to provide them with a nurturing, empowering childhood. Don’t shy away from tough conversations. Instead, question things and push your children to understand why archaic gender norms should be shunned.
Stereotypes get ingrained from young
Must all princesses have long hair? Can males be the only ones who appear muscular?
Between the ages of 2 to 6, children start to form their own opinions and ideas about activities, traits, skills associated with both genders. At this age, be careful of the media they are consuming. Constant exposure to outdated concepts are all-too-effective in making messages stick - and harder for you to reverse.
As parents, let’s also be conscious not to use gendered terms to praise - try not to compliment daughters any differently from sons. Encourage children to explore different types of play - who says dress-up is only for girls? Let them decide what works for them, in their own time.
Gender is never an excuse for bad behavior
It is not a “boys just being boys” or “girls just being girls” situation. We should not feel resigned to negative stereotypes, as this reinforces them to our children and they may feel compelled to stay in these “boxes”. An extreme scenario would be generalising that sexual harassment incidents are to be expected from men, and women should protect themselves, rather than society collectively finding ways to nip such behaviour in the bud.
Parents and teachers should not reinforce traditional gender roles. For example, simple chores like cleaning and fixing broken appliances can easily be tackled by either gender. Neither one should feel obligated to take on a certain role, solely because of gender. Of course, your level of competency and skill (or lack thereof) is another matter.
Normalize (reinforce, if need be) “nontraditional” gender roles
Buzzwords these days include “toxic masculinity”, “equal opportunity”. The wall of gender stereotypes built over years, dynasties, are being shattered by our generation of young adults. Let’s keep the momentum going.
Acknowledge what we perceive to be traditional male and female employment/societal roles, and show children that the opposite is equally possible. Men can be beauty influencers and women can be firefighters. For a start, you could ask your children who their role model is. Let them describe what makes that person their hero. Point out that these attributes are not related to their gender, but rather their character and actions. If your child’s teacher is kind and soft-hearted, it is not because she is a woman. It is because she cares. Etcetera.
In children’s formative years, it is very much a team effort between parents and teachers to shape children’s understanding of the world. To do so effectively, strive to keep an open line of communication with the school, so you may update each other on any key developments or concerns that may require joint attention on your ends. One way to do so would be through an effective school management system like LittleLives.
As Jayneen Sanders, an author and advocate for gender equality at home and in schools shares, “Children are not born thinking one gender is better and more powerful than another. They are born thinking there is no difference between us.”