Toys and Gender

I recently read with interest a few articles about parents and toy companies pushing gender-neutral toys on us again. There is a Podcast About Raising DaughtersBarbie 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.

5 thoughts on “Toys and Gender”

  1. Love this. From a very early on I noticed that my son just had “boy” interests. It wasn’t as though he wasn’t around girls’ toys, he was. It is just the way that he is wired to want to play with trucks and robots.

  2. Good post! Kids like what they like. My daughter and her best friend (a boy) used to play with Barbie dolls from preschool to first grade. In fact he loved Barbie Princess dolls more than any of the girls did. Now at age 13 and 14 they are still best friends. Girls swarm around him – maybe because he knows their language a little better than the other boys.

  3. Good points, but I think a lot of the push-back is because so many retailers segregate toys by gender. For example, many sell science toys in sections that are geared to boys. In this age of focusing on STEM education, we need to make sure that science toys and activities are as enticing to girls as they are to boys. As a mother, I want to make sure that my daughter feels confident in her ability in science & math along with her music and soccer.

  4. Peter, I always go back to what my immigrant grandmother used to say: “EVERYTHING IN MODERATION”…offer all kids lots of different kinds of toys, don’t talk in terms of boy-toys or girl-toys, or boy/girl activities. Follow their leads, get on the floor and play with them, and use your common sense. That’s usually leads to good parenting…Tim

  5. Amen! You have just reiterated my exact sentiments for the past 23 years. As any parent should know, boys and girls are certainly wired differently from the very start, and I think we should celebrate and embrace those differences rather than trying to force all children into one big soup-pot gender.
    Common sense should absolutely prevail, and we are lacking that in our society. Letting the kids choose what they are drawn to is the very best decision of all. Let them become who God designed them to be.

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