All Toys Are Game — How We Ensure Fair Play Regardless Of Our Kids’ Gender
By Jayani Perera
PHOTO © chanelpluscat/Twenty20
Aug 31, 2018
My husband and I have always strived to raise healthy, well-rounded kids. When it comes to play, we focus on exposing them to toys of all kinds. This may seem simple enough, but it takes a conscious effort to go against the media, marketing and mindsets that propagate gender stereotypes when it comes toys.
We try to ensure [our son and daughter] understand that when it comes to playing, gender isn't a factor and that they can play with whatever they like.
I remember this one time when some friends came to visit my son with a gift. He was still in diapers at the time, taking in our living room from a ground-up view as he scooted around on all fours, alternatively following my toddler daughter and getting lost in his own reflection on a squishy mirrored toy.
Our friends cooed at him and asked the standard new baby questions before presenting him with a gift much too big for my son to maneuver. I gingerly opened it, wondering what kind of baby toy could be so heavy, and I discovered a huge motorized toy car inside.
“We saw this a while ago but were waiting for you to have a boy so we could get it!” they exclaimed excitedly. My daughter, whose toy car collection started long before her brother was born, perked her head up at the exchange; she noticed the slight and asked me why she wasn’t gifted a car. After all, she pointed out, she liked cars, too. I politely thanked them for the gift but was left irritated by their comment.
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My husband and I encourage my son and daughter to try all kinds of toys and activities — to expand their imaginations, their learning potential and their experiences. We try to ensure they understand that when it comes to playing, gender isn't a factor and that they can play with whatever they like. It seems silly to have to state this, but clearly to some, a car is still classified as only a boy’s toy. My kids do have their favourite games and toys, and while some of those can be categorized as stereotypical, engendered toys, I’m OK with that so long as they’re exposed to enough options to make those choices freely, without being completely swayed.
'We saw this a while ago but were waiting for you to have a boy so we could get it!' they exclaimed excitedly.
The kids are also aware of the stereotypes themselves, and I think acknowledging and discussing these stereotypes around toys is important because regardless of the environment we create at home, they are naturally facing external influences all the time. While my daughter was too young at the time of the toy car incident to understand the why behind it, she has a better understanding of situations like that now, and we discuss them together. When she has seen playmates making comments about playing with a toy that they feel is out of bounds for their gender, she will note it to me and — #proudmommoment — even stood up for a friend once who was being teased for saying he wanted to fly like a fairy.
We have found that by following some play guidelines, we don’t need to coax either of our children to play with anything that may not be marketed specifically to their own gender. Play is play. Here are some simple steps we’ve come to follow to ensure our kids understand that all toys are game, regardless of who is playing with them:
Encourage Imaginative Play
The great thing about imaginative play is just that — kids can be whatever or whoever they want! And since both of my little ones are really into that make believe, voice changing, scenario-building stuff, we haven’t really had to encourage them in that way, but we certainly don’t discourage them either no matter what they want to be. My son is sometimes a cat, my daughter is a parent, my son is a dinosaur, my daughter is a monster — you get the point — and this exposes them to stretching their imaginations without any confines.
Do Toy Rotations
Although my kids gravitate to their favourite activities or toys when they have solo playtime, we consciously do toy rotations where we pick a toy or activity and play together. This exposes them to different things and enables them to play with a variety of toys. It also encourages them to experience and learn with different toys that they may not have necessarily chosen on their own for whatever reason.
We make an effort to ensure decisions are not based on gender. This means if my daughter gets to play dress up to the park by wrapping a blanket into a little dress and my son wants to do the same, then they both get to. Kids can easily pick up on what we do as much as or even more so than what we say.
Balance What’s In The Playroom
Most of the toys that end up in our playroom are gifted from others, and while at times gifters’ mindsets lead to stereotypical toys, it’s also a result of my kids receiving what they expressly want (my daughter proclaims she loves pink princesses and my son can name just about every type of construction vehicle there is). Still, since we don’t need five of the same or similar toys, we often go with my son and daughter to exchange these gifts for toys they don’t have as much of or have never tried before, exposing them to potential new interests.
And as for that motorized car that my son was gifted as a baby? We immediately opened it and set it up so my daughter could start playing with it. Obviously. Regardless of how a toy ends up in our playroom, once it is parked between Mr. Potato Head and a Unicorn Fingerling, it’s in gender neutral territory.