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Challenging Gender Roles in Children

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They may not know it, but the girls and boys at Montessori Day School are the students and the teachers.

Alexandria Ravenel created this school to keep kids connected to the world around them.

"Children naturally learn from one another," she says. "We create a community environment that's very comfortable and easy they learn and work at their own pace it just makes sense. Innately a child knows what they want to do and they will gravitate toward that and we ought to allow that."

But what if a child goes against the grain? In other words, they challenge gender norm - a boy plays with Barbie and a girl plays with G.I. Joe.

Dr. Lee Lewis is a child psychiatrist at the Medical University of South Carolina. He says when a child is playing, he is teaching the parent who he is.

"We impose our views on children and socially, we think that girls ought to play with dolls and boys ought to play with trucks. I am trying to figure out who decided that and why and why are we sticking to it when gender norms are changing all the time."

"Begin the process of creating their sense of how they feel about themselves and how they feel about the world around them. At no point should a child be punished or reprimanded for using or playing with an opposite gender toy."

He says when a child is playing, he or she is having a single experience at that moment.

"It's important to let children explore at an early age to understand why they may have chosen that toy in the moment."

He says when children are playing, they are actually enhancing their development in three ways - emotionally, socially and physically. Child's play is serious business.

"Children play with toys across genders. Now there seems to be a predisposition for males to play with males-centric toys like cars or trucks and girls to pay with dolls and princess dresses those aren't mutually exclusive."

Meanwhile, for the first time in Denmark, toy companies published a gender-neutral Christmas catalogue. Multiple toy companies, including Toys-R-Us, followed the trend which started in Sweden last year.

The catalogue features pictures of boys playing with dolls, a girl playing with a toy castle and other pictures that ignore traditional gender roles in the toy industry.

A member of the Danish People's Party said it's "problematic" because there is a difference between boys and girls.

But some parents didn't see a problem, saying that sex roles are changing in the country.

Dr. Lewis says even when a child is very young, the first signs of peer influence can be seen on the playground.

"It's perfectly normal for a 3-year-old boy to want to play princess with his 7-year-old sister or likewise for a 4-year-old girl to want to get into the sandbox with her 8-year-old brother is playing as well

If a parent, another adult or even another child is uncomfortable because of the way a child has chosen to pay, Ravenel says open your mind and open your mouth.

"Keep the lines of communication open because if we don't, that's where the challenges begin."

And if there is a moment when a child is playing and you don't understand, just play along

"It's important to let children explore at an early age to understand why they may have chosen that toy in the moment."

You might learn something about the child and you might also learn something about yourself.


Copyright 2013 by Young Broadcasting of Richmond

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