The Importance of Play for Children

Boys Toys, Girls Toys, Or Gender Neutral?

boy girlThere has been a huge debate in the press regarding gender. It is not surprising really, as a look at any shop targeted at babies/ children will show a clear divide between girl’s things and boy’s things. However, is this really a bad thing?

My experience of girl/ boy things

I remember as a child that there were clear defined ideas as what is for boys and what is for girls. I also remember that just because something was intended for boys/ girls this does not mean it is only for boys/ girls. It is ok for girls to play with cars or boys to play with dolls.

My son does mainly dress in clothes from the boys section; however, I have put him in clothes that used to belong to my nieces. My son has many boys’ toys but also plays and has regular access to girls’ toys as three girls came before him.

I have never encouraged or discouraged my son. My son is now at an age where he likes to have a say in what he wears/ plays with, he is just as likely to pick something targeted at girls as he is something targeted at boys.

I am not entirely sure what this tells you other than my son most likely just see stuff and not gender.

Do we treat boys and girls differently?

This topic made me think of a study done by the BBC which featured on their programme “No More Boys or Girls”, shown on BBC Two.

In the experiment, I saw they dressed up a toddler girl in boys’ clothes and a toddler boy in girls clothes and monitored how adults who did not know the children interacted with them.

The results were quite predictable, the toys the adults played and the manner in which the adults played with them did differ depending on the clothing the child wore.

The child in girls’ clothing got shown girls toys and was played with in a kind gentle manner. The child in boys clothing got shown boys toys and was played with more energetically.

Should we aim for gender neutral?

Gender specific items is not something which is reserved only for children, even as adults we have items which are marketed at men and items which are marketed at women. Gender stereotypes are even shown to play a major role in our careers, it’s seen as amazing to see a female engineer or a male childcare provider.

Should this really be the case, what kind of message is this sending out to children? Why can’t girls be racecar drivers and boys be princesses? After all my son is just as likely to pretend to be Elsa from Frozen as he is to be Spider-Man from Marvel.

The BBC programme I mentioned above also monitored a class of seven year old who were raised gender neutral for a period of six weeks.

The results showed that over the period of time, the girls became more self-confident and the boys became more caring, overall bad behaviour decreased by 57% over the course of the study.

The gender stereotyping debate is still ongoing, and there has been a lot of criticism of the move to become gender neutral.

Some feel that it is more harmful to push the gender-neutral message on children, as it is to push the boy/ girl message onto children.

Maybe we should just let children be children? Not boys, not girls, not gender neutral, just people?

Why can’t we just be whom we want?

I think one of the most wonderful things about people is how we are so similar but also so different.

It is the differences that make us who we are; life would be boring if we were all the same.

In the grand scheme of things, it really does not matter what colour shirt or bear a child has, what matters is that they are happy and healthy.

If a boy wants to play with a fairy, what is the harm? If a girl wants to play with a dinosaur, what is the harm?

If it does not harm anyone then what is the problem? Let children be children and people be people.



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  • I have a son and daughters. They each own plenty of gender specific toys. Most of the time they will play with anything. But my son does engage more with trucks and dinosaurs while my girls enjoy dressing their dolls and tea parties. What matters to them is playing with something new. And playing with whatever the group is playing. I don’t encourage of discourage them from any certain toys except ones in the store that are too gruesome or dolls dressed in skimpy clothes.

    • Thanks for your comment, I do agree with you. My son and nieces are neither encouraged or discouraged from particular toys but when given free rein the do what they please they do tend to graviate towards gender specific toys. Overall, I find my nieces less likely to play with my sons toys, my son is overall happy to play with anything.

      I find things like this facinating.


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