My daughter likes meeting new people, reading books, playing construction, talking to her dolls, playing outside, cracking jokes about poop, and making us laugh. As a toddler, her interests are diverse and her personality is evolving.
She also sits squarely in the defiance stage, where emotions are a vast ocean and logic is more like a shallow puddle. And even though she yells “nooo!”, touches everything upon entering a room, and sometimes swipes our faces, people have called her “sweet” and “mellow,” in part, because she’s a girl.
I sit there thinking, are we talking about the same kid?
We are more likely to describe girls as sweet, caring, and good helpers, while we classify boys as rough, active, and leaders.
These labels are synonymous with our cultural expectations of female and male, not necessarily indicative of the complex and varied dimensions of our children.
One way to curb gender stereotypes is to stop labeling children.
Labels are confining and often self-fulfilling. To let our children mature and grow, we need to let them experiment and try new things, without hanging on to an idea of who they’re “supposed to be,” according to the world of adults.
In fact, this strategy is just one of 13 Ways to Raise Young Feminists – head on over to my guest post at Phase2Parenting for the other twelve ideas to raise small humans who believe in equality between genders and strive to change the world to get there!
Adults understand why labels are suffocating, too.
I’m compassionate with my friends but fierce in the boardroom; I’m good at math but don’t care so much about war history; I might hang back on the basketball court, but I’ll kick your ass at Boggle. Project Runway AND Rachel Maddow both dominate my television. I used to be an extrovert, but seem to move closer and closer to the introvert line with each year that passes.
We accept more readily the diverse personalities of adults, while we’re quicker to slap on labels to the young people in this world, perhaps because children are confusing and we’re eager to make some sense of these tiny little cyclones.
But the more a girl hears “you’re such a princess,” the more she may identify with being a delicate and special flower, rather than a courageous and motivated kid.
And the more a boy hears “you’re tough, you’re ok,” the more he understands he isn’t supposed to feel his feelings, and is soon left with no tools to handle them – pretty soon anger is the only emotion he can identify.
In Day 2 of the 5 Day Reboot to Raising Confident Girls, we emphasize the value of helping your child to embrace her individuality.
Help Girls Be Themselves
In order to stick to their values, children need to understand who they are and be comfortable with it.
Women and girls experience heightened pressure to be people-pleasers. Parents and teachers are more likely to let boys take risks, be vocal, and break the rules, whereas we expect girls to mind their manners, respect authority, and follow the rules.
We need to provide girls with the assurance and safe environment to take up space, pursue their passions, find their authenticity, and motivate internally. And of course, to be ok with NOT being perfect! (A tough one for adults, too.)