Have you noticed boys in stores refusing to pick up toys or stationery items because they are pink in colour?
Have you seen girls indulge in kitchen games because that’s what girls are supposed to do?
Have you seen boys reprimanded for crying because boys shouldn’t cry?
Well, here’s a fact — children aren’t born with preferences for colour or for particular interests.
They absorb these likes and dislikes based on their observations at home and in their surroundings.
And this is where Gender Sensitization steps in.
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Gender sensitivity plays a huge impact on a child’s growth, their choices and their development, and influences the kind of person they turn out to be.
So how about we take a few simple steps at home to ensure a healthy and gender-neutral growing environment?
No worries. For this, we have with us child expert and psychologist Vidya Ragu explaining the impact of gender sensitization and how you can raise your child in a gender-neutral environment.
You may wonder how something as small as telling a boy to not buy a pink bag and to buy a blue one instead, is going to shape their beliefs and ideology. But these little instances have a lot of impact.
Neha from Digi Mother says, “In today’s advanced digital era when kids are exposed to electronic gadgets; most of the things they learn are from mobile phone, TV, and laptop. I am always careful about the type of content she is exposed to and, always take care of not limiting her actions based on sex and gender.
I encourage her to choose and respect her decision as far as it is not harmful to her and anyone. It also makes a child confident and ensures a bond of trust between a parent and kid.”
Why does it matter?
The idea that girls do certain things that boys cannot and vice versa begins to stem in your child’s mind.
As they grow older, these isolated instances collectively result in a thought process that is based on gender inequality and revolves around almost everything being gender-specific.
A lot of today’s societal problems stem from gender inequality and gender biases.
If we want our kids to be open-minded, accepting, and just free in the way they think, it’s important for us to remove barriers such as this by keeping them in an open and accepting safe place.
They can decide on their likes and dislikes without gender having to play a role in it.
Kinshoo from momlearningwithbaby says, “A child is never born with presumptions. It’s always WE who feed their brains with pre-conceived notions of gender-differences, biases, discriminations etc.
For a child, a doll is as good as a car. My boy loves to cook, play with construction toys, police games, playing music, dancing, cycling, crafting, drawing etc. just like ANY child would.”
Our expert Vidya Ragu explains to us why it’s important to raise kids in a gender sensitized environment.
So let’s understand it a bit more.
What is Gender Sensitization?
A child’s gender identity develops around the ages of 2 and 3.
And as parents, it’s important for us to make sure that their gender identity is something they choose and identify with, without it being based on social norms and standards.
She tells us that the assigned biological sex and the gender identity a child forms are two completely different things.
A child should not be restricted by their biological sex in the way they think about themselves and perceive their own identity.
There should never be the kind of thought that says, “I’m like this because I’m a girl,” or “I want that because I’m a girl.”
We need to tell our kids that they can like and dislike whatever they want, even if people tell them that some things are meant for boys and some are meant for girls.
Aside from preferences such as this, even in the gender they identify themselves with, there doesn’t need to be a strict specification of either ‘this’ or ‘that’.
They can identify as a gender somewhere in between masculine and feminine and that’s alright.
The Impact Of Gender Sensitization:
What ensuring this type of a mindset in a kid does is, it teaches them to be accepting and understanding of people’s different perceptions of who they are as a gender, what they like, etc.
It also gives your child the freedom to be who they really are without feeling restricted, which would create a much healthier self-concept and self-esteem for them.
Vidya talks about a study that was conducted that proved that young girls in schools are influenced by their surroundings when it comes to choosing a preferred career path.
They try to stay away from science and technology-based career paths because they’ve been told that these are careers meant for boys.
This is one of the core reasons why the Ministry of Human Resource Development and the Ministry of Women and Child Development have collaborated with the NCERT, to make sure that all CBSE textbooks and other guides follow a strict gender-neutral pattern.
Ultimately, all of this points to “why young parents these days, need to develop a neutral approach towards gender bias”.
And it begins at home.
Children learn through observation. So, simply teaching them one thing and practising another will not work with them. It’s important for adults to be sensitive around children when it comes to gender roles or gender expectations.
For example, telling a boy that it’s shameful to lose to a girl, or even mildly implying it creates that bias in their mind. Telling a boy that only girls cry will make him emotionally strained because society says that boys have to rage and fight to express negative emotions whereas girls are supposed to be civil and just cry.
Ankita from lifestyleproblog says, “I stopped reading fairy tales to my daughter. I tried telling her folktales that had strong female characters as well as modern-day stories where a boy was allowed to love unicorns without being judged for it.
But then, stories only help so much. What kids see is what they imbibe. Hence, we all share chores at home and there are no gender-specific chores. Whoever can do it does it, even if this means grandpa does the laundry and mom fixes a broken drawer!”
Neither approach to emotion is healthy and it also creates a warped perception of gender identity in young kids.
Here’s what you can do to ensure your child is free from gender stereotypes:
1) Give your child gender-neutral toys
It wasn’t children that decided to specify what toys were appropriate for which gender. It was us adults that did that. Children learn from what they see around them and what they’re told.
If you tell your boy child that dolls are only meant for girls, he’s going to believe it and make fun of other boys that have dolls.
Instead of telling your child what’s “appropriate” get them non-gendered toys such as building blocks, memory, and shape associated games, puzzles, toys that have wheels to pull, etc.
This is one of the first and foremost steps in creating a safe, gender-sensitive space for your kids. So, the next time, let your kids pick their own toys instead of you just buying your girl child a pink toy and your boy child a blue one.
PRO TIP: Flintobox believes in gender-neutral toys so your child isn’t told what to play with. Each box contains educational toys, games, and activities based on a variety of themes – thus broadening the child’s thinking with different concepts.
Here’s a video by Dr. Kuheli explaining how the gender-neutral toys from Flintobox helped engage her son and helped him develop skills.
3) Educate your child on the concept of gender
Explain to your child that they are free to wear what they want, play with what they want to, like the colors they want to like, be friends with who they want to be with, express any emotions in the way they see fit, etc; all of this regardless of what their sex is or what the other boys/girls that they know are doing.
Tell your child from the beginning that being ‘different’ from the other children is a good thing, and isn’t bad in any way.
Talk to them about gender inequality issues in India as well as on a global level.
Talk to them about cultural diversity in a way they would understand it. Tell them about how all of their friends may look at gender differently than they do and that that’s okay.
Their friends may do things differently than they do and that’s okay, too. Teach them about how to do away with judging a person based on what they do, wear, or like.
2) Give your child the freedom to express:
Many times, adults impose things such as outfits on their child.
If your girl child doesn’t like skirts and dresses and likes pants, trousers, and full-sleeved tops, don’t force her to wear pink fluffy clothes.
She can choose to wear what she likes and should not be restricted by her biological sex.
Even when we’re talking about your child’s room or decor, let your child pick the colour they want their stuff to be in. I assure you that your child will want more than just blue/pink stuff.
4) Encourage them to play with kids of the opposite sex
When play only takes place with kids of the same sex your kids loses the opportunity to be familiarized with people of the opposite sex so they can be more sensitive towards them.
Inclusive play with everyone regardless of biological sex takes away the kind of group-ism that begins in kindergarten where boys play with boys, and girls play with girls.
You can also often see the groups bullying each other only on the basis of gender.
5) Abolish gender stereotypes for them!
Tell your girl child that she doesn’t have to play with dolls or like pink stuff when she doesn’t.
Tell your boy child that he doesn’t have to like superheroes or action figures.
Tell your boy child that he’s allowed to cry and your girl child that she’s allowed to be raged and angry when necessary.
Every time you encounter a gender stereotype, teach your child that it’s wrong and things can work differently.
Talk to them about the sexism around them and how you’ve dealt with unfair situations because of sexism and why it’s important to get rid of it.
This needs to stop.
Overall, this mentality in children can only be changed when we change it in the adults around them.
Whenever your child chooses something simply because they think their biological sex asks them to, tell them that it isn’t associated with their sex and that they are free to choose anything that they truly want to choose.
Remember that gender is not the sex, and that they’re two separate things.
Gender is a choice and is an emotional understanding of one’s identity based on the social culture, expectations, and one’s own preferences.
Teach your child all about gender, and self-expression regardless of biological sex.
Have we missed out a point? Drop a comment below and let us know how you bring up your child in a gender-neutral manner!