How to parent without gender stereotypes in a pink and blue world

Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue
“Parenting beyond Pink & Blue” comes out April 22. Credit: Provided

Anyone who has tried buying a gender-neutral gift for a child knows how limited the options are. But Christia Spears Brown, author of “Parenting Beyond Pink & Blue,” says you can still buy “girl” and “boy” toys for your children without scarring them for life.

“There are two important things to keep in mind,” Brown tells us. “One is to think about the kind of traits and skills you want your child to develop. The other is to remember that kids learn from every toy you give them, so you need to give them toys that will foster those traits and skills. … You have to meet kids where they are. Some girls really enjoy feminine toys, and some girls don’t. If your girl does, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with pink LEGOs.”

Brown says it’s important to pay attention to gender stereotypes, even when your children are very young, because as kids get older, they face different issues largely stemming from gender stereotypes. She cites that by third grade, 70 percent of girls don’t like the way their body looks, while boys often have problems with aggression and expressing their emotions. She believes that raising kids in a way that makes gender irrelevant helps counteract these problems.

A lot of parents say this is easier said than done. “Moms tell me they buy their sons dolls, and they just throw them against the wall,” Brown says. “There are other ways to practice nurturing and being empathetic, like helping care for a family member or pet.”

Other parents complain that you can’t control what happens at school or on play dates. “You can’t control the outside world,” Brown agrees. “Parents have to make sure that they’re the loudest voice in the den of voices, so when other people are giving your kids messages that your voice is part of the messages that they hear.”

Even being an expert in this field and practicing what she preaches, she admits that her own daughters still challenge her. “When my daughter was 4 years old, she loved princesses. Of course, I can’t stand princesses so I asked her, ‘What is it that you like about them?’ She told me she liked that they wore sparkly pretty clothes. Well, I don’t have a problem with sparkly pretty clothes. What I don’t like is the focus on appearance and waiting for the boy to come and save you.

“So I introduced her to Wonder Woman, who has a sparkly belt, tiara and bracelets. It really took off with my daughter. You can’t just be anti-princess or anti-girly toys. It’s about what’s good about the toy that you can keep, and how you can reject the things that are bad.”

Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmLaurence


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