As gender lines and norms have blurred and become challenged over the past decade, more parents have taken a closer look at the development of men and women, and how things in their environment may influence their behaviors in regards to gender norms. Psychologists have noted that one year old infants begin to acknowledge male and female indicators and identify whether they are male or female, too.
A study done at the University of Wyoming by child development doctors demonstrated that infants could understand what was considered a male or female object by representing a male and female face alongside, then swapping the faces to see if they knew the pattern was broken. This test shows that children begin thinking in gender-specific terms much earlier than many would have thought.
By the time they move into the toddler ages, they start taking on predictable gender roles, such as cooking the kitchen for girls or building things for boys. The only explanation for this is that they received enough environmental stimuli that has told them these are things that boys and girls are supposed to do with their respective genders.
It is difficult for many to see anything bad about girls playing dress-up, cooking, cleaning, working on their robes designs etc., while boys are expected to build things, play with cars, or videogames. The problem arises when these are norms that get reinforced by parents, while any deviation from these activities is discouraged. We cannot allow television, stores, and advertising industries to dictate what is “normal” and what is not. This creates confusion, feelings of shame, and reclusive behavior in children who feel as though they are not normal for not fitting into their gender molds.
A boy who wants to play dress up is not abnormal, nor is a girl who wishes to get dirty and play sports. Strong should not be gender-specific, nor should being pretty. If we are to encourage individuality, creativity, and confidence, it cannot come with conditions, as with our love. This is especially true for young children who are still discovering who they are and what they like.
Children go through “phases” because of this lack of understanding the clearly defined rules in life that society has decided to carry on from the early days of mankind when man had to be strong to hunt and provide, but do nothing else; women had to cook, clean, and create. We live in an advanced society with limitless opportunities, expression, and creation. Encourage your child to do what he or she likes, no matter how strange or eccentric, as long as it is not done at the expense of others.
Some boys enjoy playing videogames or dressing up for fun. Some girls enjoy the same things, and their hobbies or interests should not be ignored, dismissed, or discouraged because you don’t like how other parents or strangers look at you and your child. Stand up for who your child is and tell them that you should never let someone tell you what they can and cannot do in life.