Utter these phrases often and show your sons and daughters that their abilities aren’t limited by their gender!

When Kristina Ong’s preschooler pleaded with her for a Spider-Man backpack, Ong didn’t think it would be a big deal.

She certainly didn’t think the bag would make her daughter any less of a girly-girl. The 34-year-old says, “It didn’t cross my mind that it would make her seem like a tomboy, until another parent made the remark.”

But the remark didn’t change Ong’s decision to let her daughter carry her Spider-Man bag. “To me, it’s just a bag — it’s no big deal. She’s still very much the same girl at home.” Adding that she isn’t too concerned with labels, she notes that she would rather focus on how to be a better mum. “Besides, who says Spider-Man school bag is only for boys?”

“A dad may be gentler on daughters and tougher with sons, emphasising that females are of a weaker sex.”

Indeed, in a time when gender equality issues make the headlines every other day, it’s important to take care how you bring up your offspring. Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness, points out that certain things you do may unwittingly reinforce gender stereotypes.

“A dad may be gentler on daughters and tougher with sons, emphasising that females are of a weaker sex. Or a father may play [only] outdoors or some sports with their sons.”

Mothers are just as likely to reinforce stereotypes, too, often reinforcing stereotypes according to the kind of activities suited to the child’s sex, says Dr Lim. “They may teach only girls to sew or cook and expect the girls to do the house chores. While boys [are expected] to do manual work.”

Besides how you behave, Dr Lim explains that the things you say can also reinforce stereotypes. For example, by telling your daughter to be gentle because she’s a girl and your son not to cry because he’s a boy. Dr Lim suggests what you should say, instead:

Tell your daughter…

1) “No one is allowed to hit you or make you feel small and powerless.”

2) “It’s cool to play with big trains, trucks and fire engines!”

3) “You can play football, hockey or take part in wrestling like your brother/s.”

4) “You can be a boss of your own company one day or become a minister, if you want to.”

5) “There’s more to life than just meeting your Prince Charming.”

6) “It is okay to say ‘No’.”

Tell your son…

1) “It’s okay to cry and express your emotions in a positive manner.”

2) “It’s cool to like flowers, bright colours and cute animals.”

3) “Your girl classmates aren’t any less powerful or ‘sissy’.”

4) “Causing pain or harming someone else is never an acceptable way to resolve disagreements.”

5) “Dolls are not for girls only.”

6) “Respect others when they say, ‘No.’”

“If their peers do judge and ostracise them, it is obvious that the problem lies with these peers and not them.”

Some parents may shy away from being gender-neutral in their parenting styles for fear that it may cause them to be confused about their gender, especially at such a young age.

Dr Lim reassures you that gender identity is an innate characteristic. “Allowing the child to freely express himself or herself, based on his or her gender preference, will not affect them in any major way.”

While gender confusion can happen, he notes that the causes are generally biological in nature, such as abnormal hormonal levels when your little one was still in the womb.

But what if your child gets bullied?

Dr Lim stresses that it is more important for parents to validate their children’s feelings and reassure them that they are perfectly normal and okay. Next, tell your child that their friends are in no position nor do they have any basis to judge.

“If their peers do judge and ostracise them, it is obvious that the problem lies with these peers and not them.”

Also, encourage your kid to make more friends beyond their current social circle. You can help by organising activities outside of school that your child can take part in to ease the way for them.

Photos: iStock

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