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A Guide to Examining Gender Bias With Your Children

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We all carry biases that are based on gender.  These ideas have been ingrained in us from an early age, and many of them may be unconscious.  Research compiled by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) highlights that although most children identify themselves as boys or girls by age three, they are still sorting out the concept of gender (Roberts and Hill, 2003). “The support they get or do not get in their preschool years lays the foundation for the rest of their gender identity formation,” according to Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards (2010, 91).

Here are some ideas to help you and your child create gender-equitable perceptions about people  

1. Treat both girls and boys the same when they are emotional (For example, avoid saying” boys don’t cry” to your son.)  Try to use observation words, rather than judgment words.

2. Encourage both your daughters and sons to participate in “rough activities” such as climbing trees and playing in the dirt.

3. Reflect on your home environment by encouraging both genders to participate in home life equally:

  • If your household includes a male and female adult- model gender equity by having both parents participate in household chores. To do this proactively, create a chore wheel so your child sees that everyone in your house gets a chance to participate in all types of chores.  
  • Give all children housekeeping chores and encourage dialogue about helping around the house

4. Reflect on your home environment by encouraging both genders to participate in home life equally: Replace the use of man as a generic noun or ending.  For example: firefighter, flight attendant, garbage collector, and humankind can easily be used to replace the use of “man” as a generic noun or ending.

5. Change the lyrics in traditional children’s music, rhymes, and fingerplays so that they include characters of both genders.  Some examples include: Interchange parental roles in Five Little Monkeys, with“Mama” and “Papa.” Make versus gender-neutral in The Wheels on the Bus,  by saying “parents” instead of “mommies;” in Where Is Thumbkin? use “Friend” instead of “Sir;” in Old MacDonald Had a Farm, use “The MacDonalds” instead of “Old MacDonald” 

6. Examine your child’s toys and see if they have an array of gender bias materials for both boys and girls such as: balls, trucks, dolls, the color pink and blue

7. When you pick a new toy or book or sign up your child for a new activity, ask yourself these questions to help you think through whether or not your reinforcing gender stereotypes:

  • “Would I feel comfortable with this choice if my kid wasn’t the gender they are? Why or Why not?
  • Does this choice expand or limit my child’s expectations of who they could grow up to be.
  • Does my child generally like things like this or am I picking it because of their gender?
  • Examine the imagery, books, and puzzles you have to see if the pictures of men and women depict nonstereotypical images.  

8. Practice counteracting gender discrimination and stereotypes by placing images in your home, office, or on your phone that don’t fit traditional gender stereotypes.

9. Look for books with strong women with leadership positions, men showing emotions, and discuss the images you see.  When reading a book with stereotypes, comment about what is fair and not fair about these images.

Be sure to examine your own gender bias as well

And probably, most importantly examine your own bias’ about gender and make a conscious effort to derail the stereotypical ideals that you have about men and women. Be mindful that unconscious bias exists and pay attention to the language and behaviors that come naturally to you that may express bias.  Think about what conclusions you jump to about what boys or girls should dress like and act like. To help you with this, check in with a friend or family member and ask them to hold you accountable and give you feedback if you are modeling stereotypes or expressing bias.

Remember learning is part of life for all of us and the more we learn, the better we will be able to support our children as they grow and develop.

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