Did you hear about the 5-year old boy in the UK who was banned from an after school group for wearing princess dresses? You can read the article here. Apparently the other kids were uncomfortable, although based upon the article, that is debatable. His parents were told that he could return to the group if he wore gender appropriate clothing. Why does a boy want to wear a skirt…who knows, he is just a kid. Why does your child refuse to eat with the red spoon…who knows, she is just a kid.
There are many gender biases. Girls are not good in math and science. Boys should wear blue, girls should wear pink. These are all harmful to our children, as it squashes a child’s creativity and individuality. Children are not born with these biases. They are taught. Children are taught racism, sexism, religious intolerance, and the like.
This article tells of a dad who let his son wear a princess costume to a friend’s “princess and prince” themed birthday party. The other kids loved it. The parents were the ones to respond negatively.
In the case of the UK boy, think about what message the group leaders are sending to the other children. Instead they could have started an age appropriate discussion of differences, promoting tolerance and acceptance. This starts with the adults, we are the teachers. Here are some tips.
1. Allow children to be who they are. Encourage their unique interests. If your daughter wants to go to science camp, let her. If your son wants to take ballet, let him.
2. If you are uncomfortable with an interest or activity of either your child or someone else’s, step back and think about why. Explore your own prejudices and fears. Change starts with you.
This is a photo, taken just this week, of the son of a good friend of mine. This photo tells you nothing about him…well, except that he is way too cute. This is just a photo of boy in a skirt playing. It does not tell you what his personality is like, what his interests are, what his favorite toy is, or anything of the sort. Think about what assumptions you make about this boy based on this photo…they are just that, your assumptions that you are placing on him.
3. If your child is teased, no matter the reason, support them and encourage them to talk about their thoughts and feelings. People can be cruel and we can not always protect our children yet we can provide them with unconditional love and build their confidence so that they love themselves as well unconditionally.
4. If your child teases another, no matter the reason, or feels uncomfortable or asks questions, encourage them to explore their thoughts and feelings and the reasons behind them and their actions. Use it as a teaching opportunity and help your child grow into a tolerant, accepting, nonjudgemental adult.
My nieces were visiting last year during the weekend of the Chicago marathon. Given that I live right on the marathon route, we of course watched and cheered the runners. My older niece, at the time 4-years old, noticed some people wearing fancy dresses and dancing to encourage the runners on and she said “look at those ladies dancing.” We only responded “yes, they are good dancers” while between my sister-in-law and I whispered “how long do you think before she notices those ladies are men.” Yes, I live in an area affectionately known as “boys town” and those ladies were drag queens. It was pretty obvious, as one was in a nice strapless stress with a beard and a massive amount of chest hair. It took maybe about 5 minutes before my niece said, “wait, those are boys dressed like girls…how funny.” She said it only with curiosity. And we simply replied “yes, sometimes boys like to dress like girls and it seems like they are having a really good time cheering on the runners.”