Children learn about gender roles from parents, caregivers, friends, media and other sources. Children begin to understand gender between ages 3 and 5 and soon develop stereotypes about what it means to be male or female. These stereotypes are strongly developed by age 7, according to an article from "Dimensions of Early Childhood," a journal published by the Southern Early Childhood Association. Internalizing negative stereotypes, such as the notion that girls can't do math, can affect self-esteem, academic performance and career choices. However, parents can help reduce negative stereotyping by creating an environment of equality and opportunity.
Set a Good Example
Children learn by imitating their parents, so avoid reinforcing gender stereotypes in your household. For example, if children see both parents doing household tasks such as cooking dinner, washing dishes or mowing the lawn, they'll learn that both genders can perform such tasks. However, if parents divide responsibilities by gender roles or make statements such as "Fixing the car is your dad's job," kids learn that certain activities are only for males or females. In addition, try to use gender-neutral language. Say "congress member" instead of "congressman" and "firefighter" rather than "fireman."
Assign Chores Fairly
Assigning chores and responsibilities based on gender teaches children that certain types of tasks are only for girls or boys. For example, don't expect your daughters to always dust or wash dishes while your sons take out the garbage or wash the car. Instead, divide chores equally or rotate who is responsible for each chore.
Support Gender-Neutral Play
Children also learn about gender roles from toys and games. Parents can reduce gender stereotyping by supporting their child's interest in a variety of activities, including those commonly associated with the other gender. For example, encourage your boy to play with dolls or play dress-up and your girl to build with blocks or play with action figures. Finally, pay attention to the gender stereotypes in the toys and games you purchase for your children and purchase gender-neutral toys when possible.
Provide Balanced Books
Ensure that your children read books that include male and female protagonists. In addition, check that characters don't exemplify gender stereotypes and that books include characters of various races and ethnicity. If you're reading a book that relies on gender stereotypes, use it as an opportunity for conversation. Books that break gender stereotypes include "Amazing Grace" by Mary Hoffman, "The Chalk Box Kid" by Clyde Bulla and "The Paper Bag Princess" by Robert Munsch.
Discuss Stereotypes in Media
Movies, TV shows, commercials, billboards, video games, websites and other media teach gender stereotypes. For example, a 2001 study of advertisements for computers found that males were typically portrayed as engaged and competent users while females were displayed as passive and decorative, according to "Dimensions of Early Childhood." While you can restrict or monitor the media your child consumes, you should also discuss stereotypes in the media that your family encounters so your child can learn to approach media critically and thoughtfully.
- Dimensions of Early Childhood: Why Does Gender Matter? Counteracting Stereotypes With Young Children
- University of Missouri Extension: Reducing Stereotyping in the Preschool Classroom
- National Association for the Education of Young Children: Children’s Books that Break Gender Role Stereotypes
- Purdue University Extension: Avoiding Gender Stereotypes
- PBS Media: Stereotypes
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