Updated: Jun 2
In this week's Expert Article, our Child Psychologist Dr Deirdre Brandner shares her insights into gender and the role we can play as parents in supporting the development of our child's gender identity.
Gender in children is more fluid than fixed, so we need to be flexible in how we think about
gender. Around two years of age, our children become aware of physical differences.
Before three years of age, they begin to label themselves as boys or girls. It is not until 4
years of age that they have a stable sense of gender identity. Research shows that boys are
more likely to adhere to gender stereotypes than girls.
Little things like pet names, “sweetheart” and “hey buddy” can impact self-perception. So can how we respond in terms of affection and display of emotion. When we label children with expectations, we limit their expression. Boys are allowed to be shy, teary, seek assurance and be cautious just as much as girls can be assertive!
Games and play should help a child build on their interests. It is through play that children begin to construct and shape their identities. If it’s dress-ups for characters or careers, we want them to balance. Drawing children’s attention to “jobs” regardless of gender is important.
We want children to play pretend train or crane driver, pilot or doctor, teacher or
scientist…without gender being applied. This can be done through everyday experiences or story books….and yes, on screens! Our children can learn through play about what people do and not how they look. Listen to your child and embrace their wishes. This fosters a strong sense of self.
Let toys be gender neutral
Toys give children the chance to experiment with the reality of adulthood. They can be
educational but, more importantly, should be fun. Having a variety of resources can support how children engage with toys. That doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot; it is just about providing the same toys for all children. Research tells us that children have little gender preference for toys until they are old enough to respond to peer pressure.
As Parents, we need to be aware of gender marketing as this is a huge area for companies. In
In 2015 in the USA, Target stopped labelling toys according to gender. Some parents can feel anxious when their child plays with non-conforming gender toys. There is no reason to be concerned; making a big deal out of this is more harmful than preventing them from playing with what they want.
We should be aware of the unconscious behaviours we may model and consider what we reinforce in our daily lives. Labels like "boy mom" or "girl dad" may limit our parenting to gender stereotypes. Our understanding of our children, their temperament, personalities, and interest allows us to engage and support their development.
We know that a child’s perception of gender is initially influenced by their family, not just
parents but siblings.
How to be gender neutral
- Toys are Toys: Let your child follow their interests
- Watch your language: Avoid pet names, sweetheart, buddy
- Play is how children learn about the world, not how they prescribe gender
- Be aware of what we are accidentally reinforcing, “are you okay darling” vs “come on big boy”
- Bring attention to the balance of chores parents do at home
- Use books and dress-ups to broaden knowledge of all that children can be.
This article was written by our Child Psychologist Expert Dr Deirdre Brandner. To learn more, purchase our Parenting Portal your expert guide to parenthood or secure your sport at one of our upcoming parental education masterclasses.