At this tender age, children and infants are in the exciting stage of exploring the world around them. At this stage, we should prioritise meeting their developmental needs and providing age-appropriate toys, rather than worrying whether the toys are blue or pink.
Babies are typically engaged in sensory exploration, fine motor skill development, and initial social interactions. Consequently, soft and cuddly toys can offer comfort and sensory stimulation, while colourful and high-contrast toys can provide visual stimulation.
Research has demonstrated that toddlers often find joy in toys designed for their gender. However, it’s acceptable if they choose to play with toys typically associated with the opposite gender as they can pick up different skills as well.
While there is nothing wrong with a young boy choosing to play with dolls or a girl loving toy cars, decades of research on children’s toy preferences show large and reliable preferences for toys related to their own gender.
Most girls might choose toys that feature appealing aesthetics or nurturing traits, while boys prefer toys with movement and excitement.
Further, one study showed that children as young as 9 months old prefer to play with toys specific to their own gender. This indicates that sex differences in toy preference appear early in development. Thus, it is likely that both biology and environment matter in shaping play choices.
Another point worth noting is that children primarily learn about gender roles through the observation of significant adults in their lives. This is where the influence of a mother and a father becomes paramount.
In learning about masculinity, a boy looks to his father and how he conducts himself at home and with others. Positive behaviours, such as learning to express emotions in productive ways and treating others with respect, are learnt through modelling.
The young child would also be observing how his father treats his mother, and where loving and respectful behaviours are the norm, he would naturally develop a sense of high regard for women.
Thus, while a boy playing with dolls can be said to be learning the behavioural trait of nurturing, how significant adults in his life behave and interact may carry more weight.
In child’s play, it is also critical to acknowledge and respect a child’s interests and to allow them to explore different kinds of play and toys.
Letting them take the lead in this regard is more useful than steering them towards certain choices based on one’s own ideology and worldview, or what is deemed progressive in society.
So, let’s give our children autonomy to make choices that resonate with their interests and unique personalities, while also making the effort to ensure home is a safe and nurturing place.
These are all essential steps to helping our kids develop a healthy sense of identity and regard for themselves and the opposite sex.
Written by Nicole Hong, a Sociology and Psychology Undergraduate
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