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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Raising Stereotype Free Children

Stereotypes... I have nothing nice to say about them.

I have very little to say about stereotypes in general because I've been fortunate enough to dodge most of them. I never had someone tell me I couldn't study a hard science because I was a girl. I never dealt with a professor talking down to me because I had boobs and he didn't. I never met an editor who refused to believe I could write science fiction because of my age, race, gender, nationality, or religion. In fact, I think the worst stereotype I ever encountered was the one time I went to the book store with my kids and the book seller automatically pointed me in the direction of TWILIGHT.

Overall, I'm one of the lucky ones.

Which makes parenting interesting. I have four children, three little girls and one little boy, and they all have very unique personalities. I've noticed that most people think Eldest is a boy...

Eldest likes LEGOS, robots, climbing trees, riding bikes, and playing with friends... Eldest is a girl.

Miss Pink loves the color pink, likes playing dress up, sword fighting, ninja kicks, and water balloons... Miss Pink is a girl.

Bug likes everything, especially if there's pirates, ninjas, or sound effects... Bug is a boy.

And Bunny the baby is a little too young to have a definite preference for anything other than strawberries, which she loves... Bunny is a girl.

I don't think the gender matters. Age dictates what the children like more. All of my kids liked trucks and dinosaurs at age 3. Miss Pink has a stuffed T. Rex that she still sleeps with.

Age 5-9 is a time of dress up play for most children, they like pretending to be other people, it's a way of mentally exploring the world around them.

By age 10 most kids like building things with legos, robots fascinate everyone, and it's hard to imagine a kid who would turn down tree climbing or bike riding.

So is there a way to raise kids to be themselves and not the stereotype they see on afternoon cartoons? I think there is. Here's my short list, feel free to add more in the comments...

1. Buy books... lots of books. Nonfiction and fiction, books with princesses and books with villains, and just anything in print that's safe for kids as you determine it really. Books let children explore the world and the see the options without ever leaving the safety of your living room.

2. Buy toys.... trucks, swords, skirts, legos, blocks, marbles... and let the kids play with them. My son has worn a dress, he wanted to know why his sisters were so excited about them. After a couple hours the sparkle had worn off and he wanted his pirate t-shirt back. He plays with ponies. He plays with pirate ships. The girls sword fight in skirts, make plans to build robots, and have action figures. I promise you, a toy cannot change your child into another gender. I've done numerous experiments and it hasn't happened even once.

3. Be honest with your kids... my son ran into the kitchen the other day with a hand full of tampons and announced that they were going on his birthday cake. Apparently, when you're three, tampons look like candles. I confiscated them and explained what tampons were for. His eyes glazed over, but the girls were listening and we had a nice conversation about bodies that Bug listened to. Not all of it is going to soak in today, but they're learning. And part of what their learning is that their body isn't something to be ashamed of.

4. Don't diet in front of your kids.... or at least skip the weight-hate, body shaming, self-loathing part of dieting. Eat healthy, eat sensibly, other your family a wide variety of foods and let them learn to stop eating when their full and to love healthy food. The more you hate on yourself about your weight the more aware your child will be of their weight and the more likely they are to have eating disorders, depression, and other problems that all stem from the idea that a Perfect Woman looks like an underfed ten-year-old.

5. Don't judge... sure, as a parent there are going to be judgment calls you need to make, like whether your kid can sleep over at the house where the parents appear to be cooking up meth, or whether that scary movie is right for your five-year-old (hint: probably not), but other than issues of safety and health it's okay to let kids make their own choices. Instead of dressing your kid until they turn 18 set some basic rules for what they can wear (the schools usually have a dress code which makes an easy place to start). Instead of doing a background check on everyone in your neighborhood and making a list of acceptable friends let the kid say hi to people and make their own friends. Kids learn to hate from their parents, so cut the attitude, zip your lip, and stop bad mouthing people (at least in front of your children).

6. Let them be themselves... so you were the chess champion of the tri-state area and your kid wants to play baseball because chess is boring? You know what? That's cool. You already had your childhood, and now that you're over the zits and the awkward phase of high school you should be happy to be an adult. Let your kids love what they want to love. Encourage their passions. After all, the goal isn't to create another YOU, the goal of parenting is to have a sane adult who can fend for themself at 18 and who you won't mind having dinner with as occasion permits.

Really, if you're a happy, well-adjusted human being who doesn't hate people for the sake of hating them there is a good chance your children will grow up with a healthy sense of self and an interest in helping their fellow humans. Kids look at examples, but they don't listen to lectures very well. No amount of preaching about the dangers of tobacco will keep your child from lighting up if they see you smoke a pack a day.

It's really that simple: Be the kind of person you want your child to grow up to be.


  1. I love this!

    My 15-year-old son is determined to single-handedly end the whole gender-stereotype mindset. He's a comic-book-lovin', action-hero-obsessed, Star-Wars-quotin' boy...

    His favorite activities are hiking and camping, and he's obsessed with explosions and fast cars. And he cooks dinner at least once a week, he proudly proclaims that Pink is his favorite color, and he's not afraid to play princesses with the little girls he babysits.

    I believe that if parents don't teach children that "this is boy stuff & this is girl stuff," the kids are much less likely to accept those limits from the outside world!

  2. My daughter grew up with toys suitable for boys and girls. Some she inherited, like the LEGO from her father and the Barbie stuff from me. She also had toy cars that started from the fact that I had a collector one in my Christmas village. She had dolls, stuffed toys, musical instruments, a woodworking kit which she still has and has added to, crafts of all sorts, her own house cleaning set, baking oven, tool set, and art set to rival most playrooms.

    She saw us working together, talking over issues and solving problems together. She doesn't like dresses but likes fancy shirts and pants. She is undeniably female but more importantly a self-contained, independent, responsible adult.

    The only stereotype idea she has - if you don't try, you won't succeed.