I recently read with interest a few articles about parents and toy companies pushing gender-neutral toys on us again. There is a Barbie construction set and pastel colored Lego sets to name a few. And it makes me wonder why we are still spending so much energy about this issue.
Little boys and girls are wired differently right from the get-go; even in-utero. Action, rough play, and aggression are biologically wired into the male brain, and as a result boys in the preschool years show a preference for toys and activities that allow them to use big muscle groups. Give a 4-year-old boy a Barbie and he is more likely to immediately use it as a weapon than as a doll. Research shows that by 4 years of age, girls prefer playing with “girl toys” and boys prefer playing with “boy toys.” Four year old boys even tend to reject and tease boys who play with girls.
Girls are more wired for connection and communication, and their toy and play preferences reflect that. I can remember my daughter at about age 4-5 years sitting next to me in our car and “breast-feeding” one of her dollies, just like she had seen her mom do with her younger brother.
Do I think it’s wise to give all kids a variety of toys and experiences? Of course. That is how they learn what they like and have a talent for. I don’t think it is healthy for boys or girls to just play sports year-round; sports needs to be balanced with some time doing the arts or using other parts of their brains. Sedentary kids need to do something physical; it doesn’t have to be a competitive sport, as some kids just aren’t into that kind of thing.
Should little girls be building things with Lego’s? Of course, especially if they have an interest in it. Same thing with little boys and playing dress-up or with dolls.
It’s about balance and using your common sense. Often new policies and issues on the front burner, like gender toys for instance, are not really about the developmental needs of children. They are more about some adult’s issues or soap-boxes. Don’t change toys because maybe it will encourage dads to play more with their daughters. Dads need to be the ones who change and get their butts off the couch and play tea parties or whatever their daughters lead them to.
When it comes to play and toys, we need to follow THEIR leads and interests, not ours.