Gender Development

Worried about your son wearing dresses? Anxious about your daughter always wanting to play with trucks and never wearing dresses? You're not alone.

I attended an excellent conference on 'Healthy gender development and young children' hosted by the National Center on Parent, Family and Community Engagement. The following blog is what I learnt from the conference.

Young children learn about gender through gender norms, meaning cultural beliefs about activities and behaviors associated with gender. Gender identity is who you feel you are as a person. This can be from as young as two or three or more fluid until as an adolescent or even later. Gender expression is choosing clothes, activities and behaviors that is culturally defined as typically male or female. Gender expression does not equal gender identity or who you will be attracted to sexually.

Children need a safe, caring environment to explore gender and gender expression. Children should have a wide range of toys and games from trucks, dolls, kitchen items and dress up clothes. Allow them to choose toys they want to play with and dress up in any clothes. Some parents do not want their young son to play with dolls but that can teach him to be a caring man and we want to encourage that.

Will you allow your son to take ballet classes- maybe when he is younger but not so much as he becomes older? Have you examined your biases?

Children are honest. They ask questions: "Why is your hair so short if you are a girl?" Or "You must be a boy if you wear a belt."

How can you respond to that? "Some girls have short hair, some boys have long hair." "Boys and girls can both wear belts." Encourage your child to ask questions.

Parents can unintentionally encourage behaviors based on a child's gender. How often do we say "he is a big boy" or "such a sweet, pretty girl?"

We need to foster self esteem in all children by giving positive feedback about their skills and abilities. "You are a good runner." "You are helpful when we have to clean up."

Let us try and be inclusive of all children and help them develop their sense of self.

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