4 Ways to Stop Reinforcing Gender Stereotypes in Elementary School
Blue is for boys and pink is for girls. There are “girl” toys and “boy” toys in the toy store or toy aisle. That’s the most popular way society reinforces the idea of gender roles at a young age. As a result, we potentially limit children from exploring their natural interests. No one is going to completely eliminate the problem overnight, but there are easy methods to invite a positive environment for kids at home and in the classroom to help stop harmful stereotypes. Here are 4 ways you can help debunk gender stereotypes as early as a child’s elementary school years:
Be Aware of Unconscious Bias
Teachers and parents both should take note: sometimes what we do is not blatant sexism, but simple phrases that shape how girls and boys think about themselves. Teachers, have you ever asked for a couple of “strong boys” to help you move heavy textbooks or to help you more with “hands on” tasks? Parents, have you ever told your daughter(s) “You need to act more ladylike” or maybe said “Boys will be boys” about your son(s)? Small, seemingly common phrases can signal to children what they are “supposed” to be based on their gender.
Encourage Them to Play With Other Toys
This isn’t to say that you should stop your child from playing with dolls or trucks if they want to, but encourage them to play with whatever kind of toys that interest them. If your children still prefer to play with toys mostly marketed to their gender, that’s okay. All you need to do is make sure they know it’s okay to play with Legos, Barbies, or anything else they might find interesting. Additionally, ensure they know not to mock another child for playing with toys “meant for boys/girls.” The same can be said for clothes and costumes as well. If a boy wants to be a princess, let them dress up as a princess. If a girl wants to be a pirate or a soldier, let them be a pirate or a soldier. Easy enough?
Educational and Career Success Has No Gender
You may have heard that boys are better at math and science and girls are better at language arts and history. But that’s not true. This old-fashion theory often results in many girls, even if they liked science at a young age, not pursuing a science-related career later in life. Additionally, many young men do not want to pursue jobs that are traditionally women-dominated such as teaching or nursing because of harmful stereotypes that could be emasculating. To help combat this situation, don’t let a young girl think she can’t be a doctor or scientist because she’s having a little trouble with math, and let little boys play school or nurse.
Understand That Gender is a Spectrum
Your child may not identify with their assigned gender or either gender, regardless of what was written on their birth certificate. Don’t try to force them to stick with the gender they were assigned to if they insist otherwise. Your child is your child no matter what, and no matter what gender they identify with (or none), their personality is the same and needs to be nurtured and guided with no gender prejudices.