Many parents get concerned when their young children do not fit into society’s pre-determined gender and social roles. One of these concerns may have been created by marketers of toys, by labelling their products as ‘girl toys’ and ‘boy toys’.
However, it behooves the question, what exactly are these gender specific toys?
Children are naturally curious and are ever exploring as they learn and grow. In their young age, they are yet discovering the world around them, including differences between boys and girls. Their discoveries, if left untainted, will be from a magical, innocent perspective. Society, in the form of parents, teachers and marketers, forms the social stereotypes that these children grow and adapt to.
Follow this link to read about the importance of mimic toys.
Fascinating fact about 4 year old boy playing with girls toys
But is there a problem, real or perceived, when children play with toys that are not for their gender?
Are there toys one gender cannot, or should not, play with?
Your four year old boy knows he is a boy. At this age, his play is based on discovery, experimenting and learning, and not on any gender stereotypes, because he (hopefully) has not developed any. If he plays with the Barbie doll, he may well be developing his nurturing and empathetic character. If with the cooking set- hey! You may have a chef in the making. Embrace and nurture his curiosity. It is just play, after all, with something he finds attractive and interesting.
However, if this phase- which it usually is before he gets to the age of differentiating between fantasy and reality- does nothing to quell your concern, and you do prefer to stop him from playing with the girly stuff, you could:-
- Take away the ‘girl toys’ from your home, and don’t buy any more, not even the pink stuff. Remove these items his immediate environment, which will reduce his interest in them.
- Redirect his interests to the ‘boy toys’. Without confusing him with statements like ‘those are for girls only’ or ‘pink stuff is for girls’, be neutral in your language as you direct him towards the more conventional toys for boys.
- Engage him in more boy specific activities. Football or fishing with the boys (even the older ones), might elevate his interest in these, thus limiting his exposure and interaction with the others.
As you work on this segregation, be gentle with him if and when he indicates his desire for the girls’ toys. Criticism and negative words will not be of help during this or any other period. When he begins attending school, his interests will most likely change to the more socially acceptable ones.
James Ouma is a CTI Clarity Coach, Cyclist and Writer. He is passionate about positive masculinity and helping incarcerated male teens to reconcile with their families and their communities. He loves staring at his bicycle, flipping through movies without watching them, and playing ‘tap out’ with his wife.