‘Use your walking feet, please!’
‘Gentle hands, remember?’
‘Use your words.’
If you live or work with small children, you will have plenty of these repeatable phrases up your sleeve. It’s good to have brief and catchy things to say, often, to pass on our values and help children learn, practise and remember healthy ways of behaving.
Here are three more phrases you can add to your daily conversation with children, to help them be themselves, without being restricted by outdated, sexist ideas of what a girl or a boy should be like.
‘Colours are for everyone’
A quick history lesson: as late as World War II, magazines in the United States were advising pink as an appropriate colour for boys, and blue for girls. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the current match-up became popular in the United States.
When I was a kid in the 1970s and 1980s the blue/pink divide was barely in existence, and certainly not a big deal. But now it’s a different story – and it’s driven by business interests, not by what’s good for our children. Manufacturers and retailers simply sell more clothes (and toys, bed sheets, books, plates – anything a child might touch) if boys and girls can’t share the same things.
So when you next hear a child say ‘Why are you wearing that? Pink’s a girl colour!’ or handing out the cups or balloons according to colour and gender, you can lightly say ‘colours are for everyone,’ and help children discover for themselves what they like.
‘Actually, girls and boys are very similar’
There are plenty of theories of gender around, but most people agree that before puberty, the similarities between children of all genders are far bigger than any differences.
Small children’s brains are very busy places! As they make sense of how their culture and society work, including what they observe about men and women, boys and girls, they will often apply these ‘rules’ too strictly, and police each other. Be ready to redirect their mistaken ideas.
The longer version continues, in my house, like this: “There are hardly any differences between boys and girls. Definitely, nothing to do with whether you like music/play with dolls/enjoy climbing/plan on being an engineer or not. Anyone can play with/like/want to be anything.’
For a fantastic exploration of this, and how so many perceived differences between boys and girls are created by the unconscious behaviour of adults, check out this great article.
‘What do you think about that?’
So much of the sexism that affects children isn’t obvious to them – or even many adults.
Why is Skye the only female Paw Patrol dog? Why is she left off so much of the associated merchandise?
Why would some people think that boys can’t like rainbows or unicorns?
Is there a good reason why a boy couldn’t wear a dress?
Try asking the children you know, ‘What do you think about that?’
Your best conversation of the day might be the one that starts with this question. Try it once a day and see what happens.