Gender-neutral play clothes let children play and move freely.

Can Parents Raise Preschoolers Without Traditional Gender Roles?

by Daisy Peasblossom Fernchild

Your childhood background will influence your parenting style, even if you are making a conscious effort to use different methods. Your child will also be affected by the way gender roles are portrayed in advertising, children's shows and books. You can, however, support your child's choices and help with his ability to understand social responses.

1. Clothing Selection

According to a 2011 article in "The New York Times," parents should support the child's choice when it comes to little boys wearing colors and clothing traditionally reserved for girls. If your little boy decides he likes pink, or your little girl loves to wear blue, you can provide clothing that will not automatically make your child a target for bullies. Remind your child that clothing should be appropriate for the occasion, such as jeans and T-shirts are for play at the park. Keep a box of dress-up clothes for playing make-believe and letting your child explore different costumes. Stock it with clothing and toys that can be connected with careers or favorite picture books.

2. Toy Selection

Thoughtful parents should provide a variety of toys. According to an ABC news article titled "Best Gender-Neutral Toys," playhouse sets that feature both boy and girl dolls or that contain the characters from recent media heroes topped the list. But the list also included traditional toys such as blocks, books and art supplies, all of which have long been enjoyed by both boys and girls. Toys that allow children to role-play career choices, such as medical kits, and cooking and cleaning sets all let children investigate future careers.

3. Setting an Example

According to a 2013 study done by the Pew Research Center, households in which the mother earns the larger part of the income is on the rise. One little girl, when asked the difference between mommies and daddies, remarked, "Dads have long hair, moms have short hair. Moms go to work, and dads stay at home and do stuff with computers." This young woman's mother worked outside the home while her father ran a business out of their home. Stay-at-home dad Matt Vilano, in an article in "The Atlantic," said that it really doesn't matter whether it is mom or dad doing it -- kids need to be cared for and nurtured.

4. Don't Panic

Don't get upset or excited when preschoolers make choices that seem odd to you. According to an article on the Teaching Tolerance website, preschoolers don't view gender the way older people do. Trying on different costumes isn't very different from the way a preschooler will say he wants to be a firefighter, a teacher or a law enforcement officer within a single hour of play or discussion time. It can also be a child's way of exploring color and comfort.

5. Social Conflict

According to 2012 story at CNN.com, the department store Harrod's rearranged its toy section, placing toys for boys and for girls side by side. The article notes that children who choose clothing, activities and toys that fall outside traditional roles might be the subject of teasing or even bullying. As a parent, you might also find yourself in the role of defender and comforter if prejudices from other children and parents against your child's choice cause hurt feelings or ostracism. Ultimately, the most important thing is to find a way to help your child understand and process responses from other people.

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