From a very young age, kids start learning about the behaviors, values, skills, and attitudes that are considered acceptable or normal for their gender. These messages on gender roles are often first introduced to kids in the home then reinforced as they grow older by siblings, friends, teachers, coaches, and even the media.
Most of us parents hardly think twice when passing on these messages, in subtle and not so subtle ways. We might not even notice that we’re doing it since we ourselves internalized the same messages at childhood and we’ve never questioned them. We find ourselves telling our sons to “man up” or “men don’t cry” while telling our daughters “that’s not how a lady behaves.”
Studies have shown that upholding rigid gender stereotypes can hamper your kids’ development, affecting not only their future career prospects but also their friendships and romantic relationships as well as their ability to process emotions in healthy ways. These stereotypes influence various aspects of our lives including how we dress, behave, talk, relate to each other and even the interests we have.
The first step to freeing your children from these developmental blocks is to challenge gender stereotypes by identifying them and also teach your kids to recognize them from an early age. This calls for some introspection on your part—to spot which “well-meaning” stereotypes you propagate—followed by an intentional change in how you communicate with your children.
To help you, listed below are 5 ways you may unwittingly place gender stereotypes on your kids:
1. How you share chores, roles, and tasks in your home.
For instance, do you insist your daughter helps her mom with cooking in the kitchen or cleaning the house while you and your son mow the lawn or go to wash your car? Do you feel uncomfortable if your son does the dishes or wants to cook?
2. The type of presents, clothes or toys you give.
Highly gendered marketing campaigns have long told us parents that there are certain toys for boy and others meant for girls, e.g. insisting on buying dolls or cookery playsets for your daughter and toy cars and trucks for your son, even when they’re not interested in these items.
3. The kind of expectations you place on your kids.
Dads can be guilty of pressuring their sons to try out for the baseball or football team while assuming that their daughters won’t want to go outside to play catch. As a result, you might miss out on precious father-daughter bonding time while stifling your son’s interest in other areas.
4. The language you use based on gender.
An example of this kind of language can be complimenting your daughter on her appearance while praising your son for his abilities and actions. This teaches your daughter that her looks are what matter most- a message that can have devastating consequences in the future.
5. How you reward or discipline behavior.
There are ways we parent reward or discipline our children that may conform to accepted notions of gender. For instance, admonishing your daughter by telling her that her behavior isn’t ladylike when she gets angry or excusing your son’s misbehavior by saying “boys will be boys.”
Once you’re aware of the ways you might be unintentionally and subtly reinforcing gender stereotypes, take action to challenge and destroy them. That way, you’ll give your kids a fighting chance to live authentic lives.
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