Locking your child into a specific category may limit his or her growth ― so smash those gender stereotypes!

Models Meryl Zhou, 5, Keira Marie Mackendrick, 5 & Enzo Baudez, 4.

Models Meryl Zhou, 5, Keira Marie Mackendrick, 5 & Enzo Baudez, 4.

Have you bought a toy tool-kit for your son? What about a fairy-princess dress for your daughter? Does your little boy read books about dinosaurs and diggers, then watch Bob The Builder on TV? Maybe your little girl is, of course, into dolls, tea sets or the cartoon Angelina Ballerina? If this rings any bells, you might have fallen into the gender trap by stereotyping your child, either consciously or subconsciously.

In 1997, Australian childcare guru Steve Biddulph’s book, Raising Boys, was the first parenting manual to acknowledge that the sexes are different and boys have more specific needs. In it, he recommended that boys start school later than girls and urged fathers to be more hands-on. The book sold 4 million copies in 30 languages.

Back then, Biddulph thought girls were “going places, focused and confident”. But, 17 years later, it seems to be a different story. In his follow-up book, Raising Girls, Biddulph notes girls are subjected to “stress, anxiety and extreme gender limitations”. Girls, it seems, are now the ones in trouble.

“Encourage them to think for themselves and develop good communication skills.”

So, what’s going on with our little girls? And what can we, as parents, do about it? Biddulph identifies a “sudden and marked plunge in girls’ mental health” over the past decade — a period when the explosion of social media has encouraged narcissism, with corporations making millions from “the ‘pinkification’ of girlhood”.

Noting that raising strong girls starts young, Biddulph writes, “From babyhood, you want to build resolve, resourcefulness and connectedness in your daughter, so that she will trust her own judgement and avoid pitfalls when she’s older,” he explains.

“Help her feel secure and encourage her to become an explorer and get along with others.”

Child psychologist Jennifer Wills agrees. “Encourage them to think for themselves and develop good communication skills,” she advises. “Lead by example, too — think about the gender roles in your family and try to ensure that your children see equality at home.”

So what can you do to unlock your tot’s future development? Click more...

Try these gender-busting tips from childcare experts Steve Biddulph and Jennifer Wills.

Do…

…give your boy cuddles and sympathy when he falls over. Boys get and feel hurt — even the rough-and-tough ones. And growing up knowing what he or she feels and why can help either sex avoid being manipulated and bullied.

…find simple dolls with no faces. Some experts believe it leaves more room for imaginative play, plus, kids love them!

…comment on a range of qualities. Be aware of how frequently you praise your daughter for just looking pretty, or your son for being tough.

Don’t…

…allow TVs in your child’s bedroom, especially for girls. Unsupervised viewing could see them watching unsuitable programmes too early.

…be too fussy and a neat freak with your girls: It’s okay for girls to be messy.

…limit your girl to cute, creative activities. Talk about numbers, counting and praise her good building skills.

Photo: File Photo

Models: Meryl Zhou, 5, Keira Marie Mackendrick, 5 and Enzo Baudez, 4.

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