Parent to Parent: Children & Gender Roles


by KING 5 News

Posted on February 25, 2013 at 9:44 AM

Updated Monday, Feb 25 at 9:57 AM

Most of us expect our little boys to like trucks and action figures and our little girls to like dolls and princess costumes. But what happens when our sons want to be princesses, too?

Linda Morgan, editor of ParentMap and author of the book “Beyond Smart” gives advice for how parents should react.

Is it only boys we’re talking about? What about girls who like to play with trucks and climb trees and do things we think of as boy activities?

This is one of those classic inconsistencies in our culture. Girls can act or dress like boys - and people call them Tom Boys. Or, they'll say, "Look how she imitates her brother." Everyone thinks it's cute. When little brother likes girl clothes or dolls, it's not seen as cute. To some parents, it looks like a problem.

Is it a problem?

It's really not. It's common for boys in this age group - typically under 5 years old - to want to wear frilly dress-up clothes or have their nails painted. These little boys see the same movies and books and costumes as the girls do. Their concept of what gender roles are has not developed yet. They just want to try things out.

Should parents allow their very young sons to play with dolls or play with makeup?

Most experts in say yes. Most boys start developing more gender-typical interests by age 4 or 5, as they start paying attention to what other boys are playing with and are influenced by peers and are just more socially aware.

The problem comes in when the kids go out - and other kids or parents react to what he's wearing. So you might choose to limit this kind of play at home.

What’s the best way to react if your son likes girl playthings?

  • Remember he's playing: He has no concept of girl toys vs. boy toys; all he sees is something that's fun. He doesn't really understand what the culture says boys should do and girls should play with. Adults are the ones who put a stigma on a toy but to a child, it's just fun until someone says it isn't.
  • Prepare for negative feedback: Some experts advise parents to let their kids engage in these kinds of activities only at home. As the child gets older, if he insists on bringing the rhinestone backpack to school, prepare him for teasing. You want to encourage his individuality, but also help him recognize the world we live in.
  • Help him feel good: That means - feel good about himself and who he is. If you are concerned about a gender identity disorder, remember that boys in this age group are still learning about gender, and it's normal for them to participate in both boy and girl activities. Some parents are concerned allowing a boy to play with dolls or makeup will in some way affect his sexual orientation, but the research doesn't support this idea.
  • Be supportive: Lots of kids like to play dress-up when they are young. Many are especially imaginative and creative. But around the age of 5, children become aware of the differences between the genders and for most kids, this goes away. If it doesn't, keep giving him love and support.

Visit the ParentMap website for more information.