Gender & Toys: Does It Really Matter?
What your toddler knows is that he or she enjoys doing certain activities. These activities, whether sorting, role-playing, or building – can be done equally well with toys that are pink or blue, and few children, unless prompted by siblings or adults, see toys as gender specific.
Walk into any home with toddlers, and you will no doubt be able to tell whether the child is a boy or a girl by a quick peek into the playroom. Trucks, trains, planes, and baseballs will scream boy; while a room full of pink and frilly dolls and stuffed animals have little girl written all over it. Interestingly, toys have become as gender specific as clothes, and many parents are uncomfortable when their little boy chooses a doll over a truck or their little girl opts for cowboys over princesses. The truth is that it doesn't matter, and the reality of gender specific programming is not something a toddler knows; it is something that is learned from the parents.
What your toddler knows is that he or she enjoys doing certain activities. These activities, whether sorting, role-playing, or building – can be done equally well with toys that are pink or blue, and few children, unless prompted by siblings or adults, see toys as gender specific. In today's world where gender specific roles of men and women are becoming less of a factor in families, it is only natural that a little boy may choose to play with a doll. Likewise, there is nothing wrong with a girl pushing a toy lawnmower through the yard emulating her own mother who does the same.
Imaginative play is an integral part of childhood development. In a medical thesis by Dr. Carter Bruce, Cognitive Aspects of Sex-Role Development, clinical research proved that gender specific toys played a significant role in socialization that led to recognized principles of sex role development later in life. In other words, the mother or father who gasps or becomes uncomfortable upon seeing their little boy cook or play with dolls is simply passing on outdated schools of thought about what is acceptable for males and females. This same method of thinking would serve to stymie a male child as an artist or musician and, likewise, thwart a female from becoming a professional athlete. Although most parents do not gasp or gawk to intentionally divert their child's attention, many parents harbor secret anxieties about their child being perceived as ‘normal', as well as fears of their child becoming or being seen as a ‘homosexual.'
Let's face it, toddlers are just toddlers; they love to play with other children and often can spend lengthy amounts of time playing with simple toys using their imagination as a guide. While a parent may feel that pointing a child in a certain direction at a young age will heighten their interest, potential, or talent, chances are, if it isn't something they are passionate about as they get older, it will fall by the wayside regardless.