It's one of the first questions most parents ask during the ultrasound: "Is it a boy or girl?" The answer might send visions of dump trucks or dolls dancing through your head. It's difficult not to succumb to gender typing. If your goal is to raise a gender-neutral child unfettered by expectations of what boys or girls should do, supply neutral toys, decorating and clothing from day one. But don't be surprised if you get resistance to gender neutrality from an unexpected source during the preschool years-- your own child.
A New York University study published in the May 2009 issue of "Developmental Psychology" showed that toddlers begin to identify themselves by gender around age 19 months. Gender-oriented play starts around 17 months and becomes more apparent by 21 months. Even if you want to raise a gender-neutral kid, your toddler will realize at an early age that people are divided into boys and girls and will want to fit into a category.
While you might think that your kiddo will be happier not have gender labels to conform to, kids age 3 to 6 have very strong, stereotypical feelings about the differences between boys and girls, Dr. Kevin MacDonald of California State University explains. Between these ages, children often have a very rigid sense of right and wrong and fit certain behaviors into that category. While you might try hard not to have preconceived notions of what you preschooler should and shouldn't do, she might have very definite ideas about what proper behavior is for boys and girls and might rigidly stick to them.
A look under the average Christmas tree often highlights the worst of gender typing: trains and trucks for boys, princesses for girls. And that's fine, if that's what your toddler or preschooler prefers. You might be perfectly happy to buy your daughter trucks -- but will you be just as happy to buy your son a princess dress? Parents tend to put more pressure on boys to conform to their gender role than they do girls, according to "Child Psychology: A Contemporary Viewpoint." Moderately masculine toys, such as building sets or science-oriented toys, do more to develop physical, cognitive, academic, musical and artistic skills than moderately feminine toys that emphasize nurturing or skills such as cooking and housework.
Avoiding Role Assignments
You can do your part to keep your kids gender neutral and allow them to choose their own interests by not assigning tasks according to their sex, dressing them in neutral clothing and decorating their rooms with themes that don't scream "boy" or "girl." But if you truly want to avoid gender typing, it's also important to realize that many little girls do prefer dress-up clothes in pink and purple and that many little boys do naturally gravitate toward machinery, tools and rough-and-tumble play. If that's what your child prefers, let him go in that direction, rather than trying to steer him toward gender-neutral activities.