A doll for my son? A
truck for my daughter?
There are toys that all children use—balls, puzzles, blocks, clay,
crayons, board games—and there are “boy” toys and “girl” toys. Some
parents try to avoid stereotyped or sexist toys and allow their
children to choose playthings from the full range available. But
other parents are uncomfortable when their children play with
nontraditional toys. These parents, who do not buy cars and action
figures for their girls or baby strollers and tea sets for their
boys, fear that playing with toys intended for the opposite sex
weakens a child’s identification with his or her own sex.
Some parents may discourage their daughter when she acts like a
“tomboy” or shows an interest in aggressive, supposedly masculine
toys. But parents who pressure her to follow traditionally feminine
pursuits may limit her potential.
Parents of boys also can restrict their child’s development by
demanding only masculine activities. Nursery school and day care
teachers often hear parents tell their sons that the classroom’s
housekeeping area is “just for girls.” Yet, there’s nothing wrong
with a boy who wants to play house or dolls. Boys need to learn how
to nurture just as girls do, and an interest in playing house is
Some parents who don’t mind if their children play with non
traditional toys still feel uncomfortable buying such toys. One
mother was pleased that her son played with dolls at his friend’s
house, but couldn’t bring herself to get him a doll when he asked.
Similarly, a parent didn’t mind her daughter’s use of war toys in
the neighborhood, but resisted buying her a tank of her own.
Some parents who have children of both sexes encourage their sons
and daughters to share toys, thus allowing nontraditional play.
Other parents buy each sibling a few toys intended for the opposite
sex so that brothers and sisters can play well together. One little
girl had her own set of mini cars to use whenever her brother’s
playmates came to the house. She joined in the boys’ games and her
parents avoided the struggles that come when one child is excluded.
When a child is under the age of three or four, he or she will
probably be attracted to toys of interest to both sexes, but by the
time children are five, they clearly identify which toys “belong” to
which sex. One five-year-old girl noticed a
two-and-one-half-year-old boy wearing nail polish and she began to
question him about his interests: “Do you like Barbie? Do you like
robots?” When he answered yes to both questions, she turned to her
mom and said, “He’s girlish-boyish.”
Parents who encourage a child to play with whatever toys he or she
likes—regardless of sex stereotypes—often are surprised when their
child chooses the traditional “girl” or “boy” toys anyway. Girls are
drawn to dolls, toy houses, and dressing up, while boys are
attracted to cars, war toys, and space toys. Girls enjoy playing
baby and house; boys like playing pirates, fire fighters, and
spacemen. Certainly the media have a powerful influence here.
Advertisers clearly market their toys for a particular sex, and
children never have a chance to see nontraditional play on
commercials. But even considering the influence of television,
children seem to have their own innate interests in typical,
Given this strong drive girls have to play with “girl” toys, and
boys with “boy” toys, there’s no need for parents to worry when
their child shows an interest in toys for the opposite sex. And
there’s no reason parents should not buy nontraditional toys if
their child wants them.
In rare cases, parents might observe that their child seems
particularly dissatisfied with his or her gender. A child who
consistently tries to play and act like a member of the opposite sex
may sense his Dr her parents’ disappointment ( I wish he’d been a
girl!’), may be reacting to family stress, or may be influenced by
genetic factors. If you’re concerned about your child’s behavior,
keep an eye on the situation and in later years seek additional
information and guidance on gender issues.