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Parenting Matters Spring 17 HIGH RES

Gender in Early Childhood The importance young children place on their gender identities, on whether they identify themselves as a girl or a boy, is evident from a very young age. Be it in the colour of cup they want to drink from or the clothes they want to wear, young children learn to identify themselves in particular ways and adopt characteristics they think will make them fit comfortably into a category. It is understandably tempting to pin this down as a natural element of a child’s maturation, the ‘boys will be boys’ attitude. Nonetheless, it can be interesting to reflect on some of the ways in which our own behaviours may in fact be sending signals to young children about what it is to be a girl or boy. Be a brave boy… Is often a response heard to a falling boy, urging him to be brave in the face of his stumble. Of course supporting the fall of any child is an important element of their development, however, what is interesting is the specific language difference heard in our responses. Praising young girls for their pretty shoes and young boys for their super-fast running can be confusing for young children. What messages are children receiving when they hear these casual comments and what does it say to them about how they identify themselves? To hear persistent praise for your prettiness may say something to a young girl about the way in which her physical appearance is valued, more-so than the many other contributions she has. Likewise, young boys may feel a need to be brave in the face of their emotional responses, rather than feel valued in the way in which they can express themselves. Language is an extraordinarily powerful means of communication, not just in what is said, but likewise in what messages are received, too. Perhaps we can challenge ourselves to, at times, replace a gender pronoun with the child’s name. What impact may this have upon how they feel individual value, rather than value because of their gender? Barbie pink With the above in mind, we can see how children receive so many signals throughout their daily lives which transmit particular ideas about their gender, even something as simple as the toy they play with. Enter into any toy store or local supermarket, and take a detour down the toy aisle, immediately you are confronted by one side full of pinks, purples and generally muted floral colours, and on the other side dark, heavy blues, blacks and bold primary colours.


Parenting Matters Spring 17 HIGH RES
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