A doll for my son? A truck for my daughter?

There are toys that all children use–balls, puzzles, blocks, clay, crayons, and board games–and there are
“boy” toys and “girl” toys. Some parents try to avoid stereotyped or sexist toys and allow their children to choose playthings from the full range available. But other parents are uncomfortable when their children play with nontraditional toys. These parents, who do not buy cars and action figures for their girls or baby strollers and tea sets for their boys, fear that playing with toys intended for the opposite sex weakens a child’s identification with his or her own sex.

Some parents may discourage their daughter when she acts like a “tomboy” or shows an interest in aggressive, supposedly masculine toys. But parents who pressure her to follow traditionally feminine pursuits may limit her potential.

Parents of boys also can restrict their child’s development by demanding only masculine activities. Nursery school and day care teachers often hear parents tell their sons that the classroom’s housekeeping area is “just for girls.” Yet, there’s nothing wrong with a boy who wants to play house or dolls. Boys need to learn how to nurture just as girls do and an interest in playing house is normal.

Some parents who don’t mind if their children play with nontraditional toys still feel uncomfortable buying such toys. One mother was pleased that her son played with dolls at his friend’s house, but couldn’t bring herself to get him a doll when he asked. Similarly, a parent didn’t mind her daughter’s use of war toys in the neighborhood, but resisted buying her a tank of her own.

Some parents who have children of both sexes encourage their sons and daughters to share toys, thus allowing nontraditional play. Other parents buy each sibling a few toys intended for the opposite sex so that brothers and sisters can play well together. One little girl had her own set of mini cars to use whenever her brother’s playmates came to the house. She joined in the boys’ games and her parents avoided the struggles that come when one child is excluded.

When a child is under the age of three or four, he or she will probably be attracted to toys of interest to both sexes, but by the time children are five, they clearly identify which toys “belong” to which sex. One five-year-old girl noticed a two-and-one-half-year-old boy wearing nail polish and she began to question him about his interests: “Do you like Barbie? Do you like robots?” When he answered yes to both questions, she turned to her mom and said, ‘He’s girlish-boyish.”

Parents who encourage a child to play with whatever toys he or she likes – regardless of sex stereotypes – often are surprised when their child chooses the traditional “girl” or “boy” toys anyway. Girls are drawn to dolls, toy houses, and dressing up, while boys are attracted to cars, war toys, and space toys. Girls enjoy playing baby and house; boys like playing pirates, fire fighters, and spacemen. Certainly the media have a powerful influence here. Advertisers clearly market their toys for a particular sex, and children never have a chance to see nontraditional play on commercials. But even considering the influence of television, children seem to have their own innate interests in typical, traditional play.

Given this strong drive girls have to play with “girl” toys, and boys with “boy” toys, there’s no need for parents to worry when their child shows an interest in toys for the opposite sex. And there’s no reason parents should not buy nontraditional toys if their child wants them.

In rare cases, parents might observe that their child seems particularly dissatisfied with his or her gender. A child who consistently tries to play and act like a member of the opposite sex may sense his or her parents’ disappointment (“I wish he’d been a girl!”), may be reacting to family stress, or may be influenced by genetic factors. If you’re concerned about your child’s behavior, keep an eye on the situation and in later years seek additional information and guidance on gender issues.

Picture Credit : Google