Avoiding Gender Stereotypes

Expert Tips for Breaking Stereotypes

  1. Encourage mixed-gender playdates, and expand the range of activities for each gender. Boys and girls who play together tend to engage in more varied activities. When they're playing with children of the opposite sex, boys may be more likely to participate in creative make-believe games or to practice their fine motor skills with art projects. Girls who regularly play with boys may spend more time outdoors, building their bodies through vigorous exercise.
  2. Reinforce behaviors that shatter stereotypes. Rather than rule out certain stereotypical behaviors, make a point of reinforcing those that challenge the stereotype. For example, you might tell your daughter, "I love to see you in the sandbox" or "Wearing pants today was a good idea -- it'll be so much easier to climb the monkey bars." A father may tell a son in tears, "Sometimes I feel like crying too."
  3. Question all generalizations. Encourage your child to deal with other kids as individuals in specific situations rather than as representatives of their gender. "If, for example, your son comes home complaining, 'Girls are so stupid!' try saying something like 'It sounds like you're angry at someone. Who are you angry at?' " Dr. Levin suggests.

    Janice Garfinkel, a teacher in South Bellmore, New York, constantly tries to probe generalizations in her classroom. "In preschool, the girls tell the boys, 'Pretend you're the dad and it's time for you to come home from work. I'm the mom and I'm taking care of the baby.' I always ask the kids, 'Do you know any moms who go out to work each day?'"
  4. Tune in to your own biases. Moms and dads themselves, of course, may be clinging to outmoded stereotypes, in both their thinking and their actions. "Parents should review their behavior to make sure they're not doing or saying anything that feeds into something harmful," says Charles Flatter, Ph.D., a professor of human development at the University of Maryland, in College Park. "Boys and girls both need to be shown that there are alternatives to the classic stereotypes."

Copyright© 2004. Reprinted with permission from the March 2001 issue of Parents magazine.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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