Amita insists that her fourteen-year-old son Rohan learns cooking. “It is empowerment,” she says. “It puts him in charge of his own food.”
Boys must know how to feed themselves and girls must know how to get from point A to point B.
We all agree with Amita ( any mother, every mother) on these simple goals, but how often do we encourage boys to take charge of the kitchen or girls to tinker with the car?
Don’t we all want to make our children as self-sufficient as possible?
Gender-neutral play goes a long way in accomplishing this ideal.
A New York Times article sums it up in this way. “Mixed-gender play is really important, getting boys and girls to play with one another and recognize behavioral similarities,” Dr. Spinner said.
“Children can overcome their anxieties about playing with other-gender children if you can get them to understand there are a lot of similarities in what they like to play with, rather than focusing on the gender of the child.”
So what is gender-neutral play?
Girls like baby doll soft toys and boys like cars, or girls get cooking sets while boys get train tracks to play with is a common idea that adheres to gender stereotyping.
Letting children choose their toys and books and ways to play with them without preconceptions is gender-neutral play. A boy could be gifted a cooking set, and play pretend at cooking a meal.
A girl might love playing with planes and zooming about with them.
Gender-neutral play opens up their minds to possibilities as they play. The girl who thinks of flying could imagine being a pilot or a rocket scientist and make that a reality when she grows up.
A boy who makes a dessert with a kitchen cooking set might be more predisposed to shouldering equal responsibility at home.
Gender-neutral play also helps build confidence as there are no limits to what they can imagine or do. This helps kids deal with social situations better including their workplace once they grow up.
How to encourage gender-neutral play?
So how can you encourage gender-neutral play that will help you raise kids who believe that they can do whatever they set their minds to?
1.Model fairness, empathy, and respect
Be the change you wish to see. You set the best examples as always. So make sure the kids know from you that gender is not a gating factor for choices we make.
2. Get simple toys that build skills related to household, caregiving, and basic work habits
Drive to the office in a car. Take care of the baby at home. Cook for the family. These are everyday examples of what we do.
These can also be the way you encourage them to play with their toys.
3. Let kids indicate toy preferences without judgment
Avoid shaming kids for wanting to play with any particular toys. You are a boy and want to play with cooking sets? Girls should play quiet games.
Ask questions. Observe. Affirm. It’s their choice. Respect it.
4. Prevent harmful stereotyping
If your child is being bullied for playing with non-stereotypical toys, stand up for them. Girls can play soccer and boys can rock dolls to sleep (will be great when they are dads themselves).
5. Open up
Buy kids' colouring mat sets along with footballs for your son and your daughter. Cooking sets can coexist with racing tracks and blocks.
Your child will have more friends, not suffer from social awkwardness with the opposite sex when they grow up and be the best they can be.
Let your child choose to play with the toys they like or the books they want to read. There is no such thing as wrong play as long as they are safe and no one gets hurt- physically, mentally or emotionally.
What Amita wants for Rohan is what we all want for our kids; to raise a confident child who can navigate happily through this world on their own terms.
Let this be your guiding mantra!