Many people believe boys should be courageous and strong, while girls must be nurturing and delicate; boys should strive for dominance and be active, while girls must be passive and submissive. Unfortunately, gender stereotypes can have a harmful effect on both men and women.
As parents, we are sometimes inadvertently reinforcing stereotyping. Whether you compliment boys and girls in different ways or get uncomfortable when you see your son playing with dolls, it is imperative to combat toxic stereotypes and help girls and boys find their talents so that they can follow their dreams.
The following are tips for breaking gender stereotypes:
- Set up mixed-gender playdates and expand the range of activities of each gender. Girls and boys who play together often engage in more diverse activities. Boys may more than likely indulge themselves in more imaginative games and participate in art projects that refine their motor skills. Girls may spend more times outdoors and build their physical strength through exercise.
- Reinforce behaviors that destroy gender stereotypes. Instead of avoiding stereotypical behaviors, you should reinforce those that challenge the stereotype being confronted. For example, you may tell your son in tears, “Sometimes, I want to cry too.” You could tell your daughter, “Wearing shorts makes it easier to play in the jungle gym.”
- Challenge all generalizations. Encourage your kids to deal with other children as individuals in certain situations instead of representatives of their gender. For example, if your daughter comes home from school and declares, “Boys are stupid,” try responding with, “It sounds like you must be angry at someone. Who is this person?”
- Be aware of your biases. As we said before, moms and dads themselves are not tuned into their own stereotypes, in both their thinking and actions. As a parent, you must analyze your behavior and ensure that you are not saying or doing anything that is harmful. You must be strong enough to show your children that there are alternatives to traditional stereotypes.
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