Question: I’m afraid I’m not sure what to do about avoiding gender stereotypes with my kids. I have a boy and a girl, and they’re different! Should I treat them the same?
Mark Brandenburg replies: It’s not always easy to know how handle gender issues with your kids. Here are a few guidelines for you:
• Don’t handle your daughter with kid gloves. Wrestle with her, expose her to athletics if she has interest and teach her all the things you’d teach your son: how to use tools, how to throw a ball, etc. She’ll eventually find her own path.
• Use frequent touch with your son. Cuddle him, hug him and show him that men can feel comfortable touching other men. This will make him more, not less, comfortable about his future manhood and more comfortable socially as well.
• Protect your young kids from media. TV and video games will provide your kids with the worst models of gender stereotyping. Keep them involved in other activities around the house, and keep your own TV off.
• If you’re married, share household tasks with your spouse. Your kids are watching very closely. This is where they get the most important models for how gender roles work. If both of you can do everything, they’ll know it can be done that way.
• Expose your kids to a full range of toys. When the time comes, they’ll figure out that there are some things girls are “expected to do” and things boys are expected to do as well. But until then, let them enjoy all of them. But don’t have expectations, because you can’t control what they like!
Eventually, your kids will figure out that society is telling them what they “should do.” In the meantime, let them experience all that they can. That way, they’ll be more ready to make their own decisions when the time comes.
© Mark Brandenburg
NFO regular contributor Mark Brandenburg, MA, CPCC, is the author of 25 Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers. Sign up for his free bi-weekly newsletter, Dads, Don't Fix Your Kids, at MarkBrandenburg.com.