Baby's First Year · Parenting

Gender stereotypes & toys: The impact on children

Parent in a toy department looking at toys on a shelf

The holidays are approaching and if there are children on your gift-giving list, there’s a chance you are going to be visiting a toy store – where gender stereotypes rule the layout of the store! Here are some tips from our sexual health nurse, Jennifer Katz, RN, to help us navigate through those kids’ lists.

Do you head to the pink, sparkly side of the store?  Or to the blue, rugged side of the store?

Is your decision based on the type of kid you are purchasing a gift for? Or is it simply based on the gender of the child?

How would a child react if they received a toy that had been marketed for a different gender than their identity?  How would extended family or other kids in the community react?

We live in a society often separated by gender – and children pick up on this messaging.

Toy advertising, especially during the holidays, sends children (and adults) very strong messages about who exactly each toy is intended for: dolls and stuffed animal toys for girls, building sets and sports toys for boys.

Even when toys are marketed to all kids, they are often ‘altered’ to fit gender stereotypes – we see basketballs in pink with sparkles, and diaries in blue with images of skateboards and skulls, with the intention of making them more desirable to the ‘opposite’ gender.

Beyond marketing techniques, how do these stereotypes affect our children?

In regards to their own gender identity, toys may affect children’s feelings and self-esteem, especially if their identity does not conform to the stereotypes that the toys are promoting.

Studies show that gender stereotypes can lead to sexist beliefs, bullying and anxiety for those who do not conform.

Children learn critical thinking skills through play.  Some things to consider are:

  • Purchasing gender neutral toys to help counteract stereotypes that can impact a child’s sense of self and limit possibilities about what they can achieve in the world
  • Offering children a wide variety of toys to provide them with opportunities to:
    • challenge their brains with puzzles and building
    • learn nurturing and dramatic play skills

This holiday season, give extra thought about what messages your gifts may be sending.

For further resources on speaking to children about sexuality issues connect with:

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