While some people are fine with the status quo, many GenX and Millennial parents are looking to rear their kids with the idea that gender is fluid, not something set in stone and based on our anatomy at birth.
Gender is fluid, and honestly, the idea that our kids have to like certain colors, enjoy certain toys, or act a certain way because of biology is kind of silly, when you think about it.
In our house, we’ve tried to allow the boys to choose favorite things without comment, to opt for pink shoes if they want, to watch princess shows along with their car and truck programs, and to basically not have much of a comment on any gender-related things – but I still feel like we could be doing more.
If you have similar goals and feel the same way, here are some more things you can do to actively combat stereotypes in your house.
The American Academy of Pediatrics official position is that “all children need the opportunity to explore different gender roles and different styles of play,” and developmental and clinical psychologist Diane Ehrensaft agrees that kids need room to explore – and eventually feel confident in – their gender.
You can do this, first and foremost, but not telling your kid what to think. You can listen to them and take their cues in order to begin a dialogue, but try not to lecture, and back off when you sense they need space.
Here are some common questions, and Dr. Ehrensaft’s advice on how to handle them at home:
“He Looks Like A Girl”
If your child says this, or hears it, it can reinforce the idea that there is a “right” way for boys and girls to look – and, if someone breaks these expectations, can lead to the being bullied.
Ask your child why they think the person looks like a girl, and if possible, point out that long hair, a pink shirt, etc are for anyone who likes them.
“Is That A Boy Or A Girl?”
Your child is curious, not rude, but they need to be aware of the reality that not everyone fits neatly into one of two boxes.
Tell your child you don’t know, and the only way to know for sure is to ask them, which makes it clear to the child that gender isn’t something you can know for sure without asking.
“Princess Dresses Are For Girls”
Girls can be anything. Boys can be anything. The same is true for kids who are nonbinary, or anywhere else on the spectrum.
Tell your child simply that princess dresses are for anyone who wants to wear them and leave it at that.
“Boys Are Mean”
There are boys who are mean, girls who are mean, and some of both that are nice.
Ask your child whether she or he knows any boys who are nice, and then remind her that people aren’t all one thing or another – we’re individuals.
“Boys Stay Here And Girls Go Over There”
Encourage your kids to separate based on things other than gender, like whether or not they like ice cream or popsicles, peas or green beans, pizza or cheeseburgers.
The more you can reduce the use of binary language the better.
“I Love Uncle Michael! She’s The Best!”
Toddlers have to learn gendered pronouns like everything else about language, and it’s normal when they mess up.
Don’t let it slide, though – explain what pronouns are and that we need to use the ones people prefer.
There you go!
Your child will surely have more questions than these, and harder ones as they grow up and things get more complicated, but handling their early queries this way should set a foundation of beliefs that gender is what we make it, that questions are good, and that all choices should be respected.