What is gender-responsive parenting?
How parents can help break the cycle of discrimination.
Your child’s brain develops faster in the first few years of life than at any other time. Millions of neural connections are being made in your little one’s brain from everything they experience. These early moments are when the foundations for learning, health and behaviour are formed and they are the same for children of all genders.
Around the age of three, children begin to develop a sense of gender identity, which continues to solidify as they get older. By the age of 5, children have a sense of gender stability and begin to express their gender identity through both words and actions.
Unlike the term ‘sex’, which means the biological differences between women and men, ‘gender’ refers to the social relationships between women, men, girls and boys. It can vary from one society to another and at different points in history.
Parents may transfer their own gender biases to their children. For instance, from a young age, girls may be treated as fragile or praised for their looks while boys may be encouraged to always be strong and earn praise for their physical strength. Through such biases, children are gradually taught to behave according to these “accepted” norms of their gender, which can be harmful to their social and emotional development.
As a parent, you play a critical role in whether your child conforms to or challenges such gender norms. Follow these tips to help prevent gender bias at home.
From the very first day, girls and boys should be nurtured, loved and cared for equally.
Equal treatment from day one
From the very first day, girls and boys should be nurtured, loved and cared for equally. Your relationship with your child is the foundation for their development. Children may develop at different rates, but the developmental milestones for boys and girls are the same. Playing, reading, eating together – it all helps your child to learn and develop, regardless of gender. When it comes to attending school, playtime or household chores, boys and girls should participate equally.
Make room for everyone at playtime
Make sure to engage your children equally in play. Look for toys, books and games that promote your child’s sense of self-empowerment and help to develop social and cognitive skills. Toys that encourage building and creativity or books that depict both male and female protagonists in non-stereotypical and non-traditional roles are great choices.
Be conscious of gendered toys
Encourage your children to play with toys and games traditionally associated with the opposite gender. Both girls and boys can play with dolls and cooking toys as well as engage in physically-active games. Try to avoid games and toys that deliberately encourage gender stereotypes, such as pink packaging for girls and blue for boys. Keep your children away from playing with toy guns and overtly violent or sexualized digital games – encourage instead sports and outdoor games.
Lead by example
Remember that your children often follow the example you set. Be a positive role model through challenging gender stereotypes. For example, fathers can participate in cooking and cleaning. If you are a mother, play outdoor sports with your children. If there is more than one parent at home, each of you should share an equal role in nurturing, bonding with and caring for your child. Spending time together as a family is important, but also make sure to set aside one-on-one time. This helps your child’s self-esteem and the bond between the two of you.
Refrain from harmful language
Avoid jokes or phrases that reinforce gender stereotypes (for example, ‘he cries like a girl’ or ‘she’s too bossy’). Be emotionally open and accepting with your child regardless of gender and encourage them to express their feelings and their own sense of identity.
The most important thing is to refrain from strongly assigning and asserting gender identities onto your child. Instead, encourage your little one to develop their own sense of identity and agency in a nurturing, accepting environment.