The Gender Role Rabbit Hole
From the moment a child is born, the course of their identity is steered by their closest loved ones that will guide them throughout their lives. The moment a pink versus blue infant cap is chosen, identity has been framed. However, the question becomes who these children might be without our interfering social demands? Most children don’t recognize their sexual differences until around age 2-years old. Thereafter, they begin to understand norms associated with their gender as masculine or feminine. Kids begin to work hard to maintain behavior that fits into the gender specific frames assigned to them. Nevertheless, parents and caregivers soon learn that these frames don’t always conveniently fit their children. Sooner than later their authentic personality springs forth in rebellion, and parents watch in amazement as their genial girl begins kicking off those pink ribbon shoes they never wanted and throwing a pair of cleats over their shoulder ready to get dirty at the local sandlot.
Gender Identity & Play
Despite our efforts to control human nature, children revert to what feels true to themselves and seek out ways to feel most like themselves. Play is the primary way children learn about the world and themselves. According to child analyst Piaget, through play, children strengthen their relationship to and mastery of their environment. Personality typically drives children to interact with the environment in unique ways. The process of learning through play further develops a child’s identity. Children will choose their playmates based on their own true interest and sense of commonality with peers. These peer relationships become mutually beneficial and independent of sex differences. The interference of gender roles and expectations stunts the natural honing process of play. Ultimately a child’s unique way of learning becomes inhibited. Thus, children work twice as hard to behave in a manner that is counter to their particular traits and characteristics. Essentially, gender roles may train children to be unlike themselves. Gender expectations can send messages of rejection to children that don’t quite meet societal norms. Parents and Childcare professionals should allow children to freely explore their own unique interest without introducing gender biased rules. Allowing children to be free and explore what feels true to their unique personality, puts children on a successful trajectory. Moreover, enabling children to be and play according to what feels natural to them, sends a message of unconditional love, which is crucial to healthy self-esteem.
Parents Role In Loosening the Gender Reigns
Childcare workers and parents play a major role in ensuring healthy identity and cognitive development in their children. At birth, it is essential for parents to provide children with an environment that encourages free exploration. For parents to provide an environment free of gender role constraints, they must first identify their own gender biases. The influence of gender expectations is so ingrained in human thought and behavior that this way of thinking may be automatic. Once parents have identified these automatic biases, they will be better equipped to provide a gender-free environment. Additionally, parents must positively correct other adult figures actively involved with their children to refrain from gender specific coaxing. For example, nannies and other childcare workers should be fully informed about how they can best provide “gender-free” care. Finally, parents must accept that identity is not necessarily static and that shifts in gender preferences occur. Thus, at any given stage parents and caregivers must be loving and supportive.