Yesterday’s blog post covered a long list of problems caused by gender inequality, and how gender disparity contributes to a disproportionate amount of responsibility in child-rearing and other domestic tasks, unfair wages and chance of employment or financial independence for women, harmful practices like female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage, promotes rape culture, and can even encourage violence or abuse against women. I honestly believe that change begins at home. Parents should be responsible for teaching their children about gender equality and to breakdown outdated gender stereotypes which can manifest in harmful ways. By not raising our children to think that all genders are equal, we are contributing to the problem.
So how does one raise gender-neutral children without imposing typical (and harmful) gender stereotypes? I’ve put together a list of what I think is most important when breaking down gender stereotypes to parent in a gender-neutral way.
- Allow your children to feel their feelings: Let boys be emotional and cry if they want to, let girls be brave and tough if they feel like it. Expression is key to healthy emotional intelligence. Don’t stop your child from feeling what he or she wants to feel, so they don’t end up keeping it all inside (which will inevitably implode or explode into a tantrum or other negative behaviour sooner or later). Bottling up your emotions long enough (or regularly enough) can even surface as violent behaviour down the line, which is dangerous for your child and for those he or she interacts with. And whatever you do, do not shame your kids for their emotions or their behaviour.
- Don’t adhere to typical gender stereotypes: Girls can wear blue, boys can paint their nails. Girls can play with dinosaurs or play football, boys can do ballet and play with dolls. Did you know that pink was considered a boys’ colour during the Victorian Era? And blue was for girls and considered very feminine . Do you know why it changed? An advertising campaign! It’s all arbitrary and colours are not masculine or feminine. Let your kids wear what they like!
- Encourage open communication: Ensure your child knows he or she can come to you if they’re feeling something (anything!). And remember that communication goes both ways. It’s OK to tell your child if you are feeling sad, angry, disappointed, etc. By showing your child that you feel and express your emotions, you teach your child and model normal behaviour.
- Teach your kids to be emotionally aware: In addition to speaking about and experiencing their own feelings, it’s important to teach your kids to be respectful of the feelings of others. Regular open discussions and engagement about our feelings, why and how we feel them, and to be respectful or act appropriately when others are having different emotional experiences is important (for example, our neighbour is sad because her dog passed away).
- Don’t distinguish between roles based on gender: raising babies? That’s work for mothers AND fathers. Domestic work? That too. Executive positions? Men and women can be equally qualified for top roles. Of course you and your partner may choose to split these tasks, but do so in a mindful way so that your child knows that you aren’t staying home to care for babies because you’re a woman, or going to work and earning all the money because you’re a man. Teach your kids that men stay home with kids, and that there are women executives too. Avoid referring to a job or duty as ‘women’s work’ or ‘a man’s job’.
- Treat your children equally: Don’t praise your boy over your girl. Don’t be protective of your daughter around boys who show an interest but encourage your son to date lots of girls. Don’t joke about your son being a heartbreaker or ladies’ man or joke about your daughter being banned from talking to boys until she’s 35. Don’t favour one child over another. It sounds simple, but gender roles are so ingrained in our societies and cultures that it’s easy to send the wrong messages if we aren’t careful and mindful of our own behaviours.
- Talk to your kids about sexual health: Avoiding topics like sex stigmatises sexuality and the opposite gender. Kids are curious by nature, so if they ask you questions, speak openly and candidly (in an age-appropriate way). Make sure your children are aware that they are responsible for their actions and should respect the wishes of others (don’t shame girls for what they’re wearing and teach your boys about consent).
- Model gender-equal behaviour: If you and your partner/spouse don’t treat each other as equals, you send a very strong message to your child that you are not equals. If you speak down to or abuse your spouse or partner, your child will think that’s normal behaviour. If one parent does all the childcare or all the housework, this sends a very strong (negative) message to your child about gender equality. Remember that kids learn from what you do, not what you say. If you preach equality to your child but disrespect the opposite gender, your child will likely just learn to repeat what you’re preaching but will learn that gender disparity is normal. By showing respectful behaviour to everyone around you, you can model positive gender-equal behaviour for your child.
I hope you’ve found my list of guidelines useful. Feel free to let me know in the comments. I’d also love to hear any other tips or ideas you might have!
As a fun bonus I’ve compiled a reading list full of my favourite children’s books that promote and encourage gender equality! Click the button below to download a *FREE* copy of My Recommended Reading List: Children’s Books That Promote Gender Equality.*
Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links in my recommended reading list are affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through those links, however this does not impact my recommendations. I compiled this reading list based on my own preferences alone. I recommend these books because they are insightful resources for children that I have found to be engaging, informative and trustworthy. Please let me know if you have any questions!