Forget Pink and Blue! Let Your Kids Choose Instead

strawberryland
Image via Katie Hurley

While it's important for children to have a wide variety of toys to choose from regardless of gender, it's even more important to remember that the choice is theirs to make. Unstructured play isn't really unstructured if you won't let them play with those coveted purple Legos, after all.

With all of the talk about the benefits of unstructured play for kids, there is also an intense debate about toys. Specifically, many parents are frustrated with gender stereotyping when it comes to toys. I get it, options are good and girls shouldn't be forced into a world of pink or boys into a world of blue simply because the toy store made that not-so-subtle suggestion.

I have a Strawberry-Shortcake-loving daughter and a cars-and-trucks-loving son and an office full of gender neutral toys for play therapy. You know what they choose to play 90% of the time? “Strawberryland meets Carsland”—a game they invented quite some time ago. There are hotels, constructions sites, swimming lessons, baking contests, dress shops, and shark tanks involved. The story evolves each time they play, and they work together to keep the game going. And that, my friends, is the essence of unstructured play.

mother toddler play
Image via Flickr/ pulihora

Have options

The key to encouraging unstructured play is to present your kids with options. Do you need a house filled with every toy on the market? Of course not! In fact, real life props (go ahead and share those kitchen essentials) are often the most fun.

Kids don't think in “girl versus boy” as much as adults do. Kids think about what appeals to them—what might be fun. A great starting place is to ask your kids what they like to play. Or, if they're toddlers, watch for clues. Letting your kids lead the play is the best way to figure out what toys suit them and how they prefer to spend their time. 

{ MORE: To the Parent Who's Raising Their Children Differently Than They Were Raised }

toddler princess
Image via Flickr/ peasap

Let go of your worries

Did your daughter fall down the princess rabbit hole and you fear that she'll never climb back out? Does your son wear a cape absolutely everywhere? Is it the opposite? Stop worrying. Don't overthink the nature of your child's play. Kids engage in fantasy play to figure out how the world works and try on new roles. Your princess-costume-wearing son isn't trying to tell you anything; he just really wants to know what if feels like to wear that costume.

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{ MORE: Vegetables: Are They Really Necessary? }

Worrying about the color of Legos or the potential message Barbie sends is a parent's worry—kids just want to play, learn, and explore. Let your kids be kids and try not to worry about the potential hidden meaning behind everything. When we place restrictions on play and become fixated on the nature of the play, kids hear that they are bad—that they are doing something wrong. Kids should be encouraged to direct their own play without judgment. 

toddler play
Image via Flickr/ Jenny Lee Silver

Get involved

If you really want to understand why your daughter keeps playing the damsel in distress, get involved! An invitation to play is huge. Many parents don't realize that when kids invite us to play, they are giving us front-row seats to their inner worlds. They might even be looking for help.

When you play with your kids, you help them find ways to resolve problems, conquer fears, and work through their worries. As long as you let them lead the play, your children will explore their worlds and learn a lot in the process. 

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Forget Pink and Blue! Let Your Kids Choose Instead

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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