The other day in the sand pit a 4 year old boy declared to a girl his own age, "I will not listen to you. You are a girl. Girls are supposed to listen to boys." The girl stared at him blankly for a second, punched him and grabbed her sand toys and ran away.
This got me thinking. I believe that playgrounds are a great place to study children's psychology. They are almost a microcosm of the world around us. As a playground mom, who takes her kids (aged 4 and 9 months) to the park every day, you get to observe a lot of things like bullies, kids who push others to get on the slide first, the nurturers kids who share and look out for the l'l ones around, the manager kids who work out complex negotiations about rules of the games, who won, whose turn is next, can so-and-so join the game etc.
So on occasion, one can also observe a 4-year-old sexist at the playground it seems. Somehow there can exist a 4 year old sexist.
How can a four year old have such strong thoughts on gender roles? Is male jingoism a genetic thing? Probably not. But the social cues the child was receiving was probably wrong somewhere. I began to think what a horrible co-worker that boy would grow up to be. (Or even a husband for that matter). How can one prepare boys to deal with children of the opposite sex better on and off the playground?
Here are some tips to help sensitize boys to gender issues:
Gender roles begin at home
How a mother is treated by other members of the family goes a long way in defining gender roles for children. If everybody treats the women of the house like a maid, you are creating a path for kids to believe that women are subservient to the men in the family and the primary role of women is to serve them.
Get boys to help out at home
In extension to the first point, do not define chores by genders. Do not say "You are a boy, do not enter the kitchen". Make them help you set the table, cut fruits and vegetables, clean up after dinner and wash dishes etc. Let daddy make tea and breakfast on Sundays.
Do not allow chauvinism to enter your living room through the Television
Watching item numbers with bawdy sexist lyrics, movies where women are treated like commodities where their only role is to look pretty and dumb, serials where the scheming daughter-in-laws and mother-in-laws try to outwit each other in petty family politics, advertisements where the woman's only worry are the stains on her husband's shirt only reinforce gender stereotypes. Best avoided.
Pink is a girl's colour
If your boy fancies a pink duffel bag or pink T-shirt, let him buy it. As someone once said, "Quite rightly the Rajputs wore pink and the Rajputs are quite a manly race".
Boys don't cry
Boys and girls all cry. All humans do in fact. (And a lot of other living beings feel grief as well) So don't make it worse for your boys by asking them not to behave like girls when they cry.
Protect their baby sisters
When a boy becomes a big brother, we automatically start filling their heads that they need to protect their little sisters. Don't put such big responsibilities on his little male shoulders. Instead just say, "You have a new baby sister". You have to always look out for one another. Let the siblings share the responsibility, get rid of the ‘protector' and ‘to be protected' label.
If your son does not like to watch Iron Man, Thunder Cats and Ben 10 or play with guns and swords, let him be. Aggression and violence is not a manly feature, emotional intelligence and sensitivity is. If your boy would rather watch Dora, so be it!
Keep communication lines open
If your boy has questions about why his body is different from a girl's, do not shy away from answering the questions. And please don't scold him for his curiosity. Keep the answer precise and clear. Questions could range from why his sister uses the bathroom differently, does not have a penis etc. Remember, if you don't give him an answer, he will get his answer from his peers or the internet and most likely the answer will be convoluted.
So the next time your son tells a girl (on and off the playground) that she ought to be listening to him because she is a girl, tell him he is wrong and that he has to take turns listening to one another. And if the girl punches him in return, tell her no violence, please!
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