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Why I Say Yes To The Dress (For My Son)

We don't need gender stereotypes for our children.

08/12/2016 10:19 AM AEDT | Updated 08/12/2016 10:19 AM AEDT
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"Children don't see the world through the same gender stereotypes that we do as adults."

From the moment we are born and the declaration of 'it's a boy' or 'it's a girl' follows, our life is forever changed.

Our gender influences what we are named, the colour we are dressed in and the toys we are given. It even alters our interactions, with researchers finding that adults talk slightly less to baby boys than they do to baby girls.

Enough I say.

Gender differences exist, clearly. We have different anatomy and the rate of brain development also varies between boys and girls. Boys for example, take longer to establish good connections between the right and left sides of their brain, equating to later readiness for classroom learning.

Let's not ignore these differences. But let's also ask the question: "do we need to have different rules for children based solely on their gender?"

A growing number of parents think not. In gender-neutral parenting, families seek to avoid such limitations. Instead children are given freedom in how they dress, what they play with and their hairstyle, rather than being directed to an 'appropriate' boy or girl choice.

Being a boy for example, doesn't mean you have to have short hair and play with trains. You may prefer to draw and wear a tutu. Being a girl doesn't mean you have to have long hair and play with dolls. You may prefer to play superheroes with your cropped head of hair.

In just the same way, adults are breaking away from outdated gender stereotypes. Men can be stay-at-home dads, while women can be astronauts or CEOs. Perhaps these examples aren't as prevalent as we would like them to be but nonetheless, the old rules no longer apply.

Gender-neutral parenting isn't about creating a genderless society, nor is it about turning girls into boys or boys into girls. It's simply about choice. Following a child's lead, while creating space and support for what emerges.

You see, children don't see the world through the same gender stereotypes that we do as adults -- they only see endless possibilities. A four-year-old girl thinks nothing of dressing up as Spiderman, in the same way that a five-year-old boy thinks nothing of dressing up as a Disney princess.

It's the adults in the room who layer on the judgment, discouragement or laughter. And for a reason that I cannot quite fathom, it's all the more prevalent when a boy is the one at play.

My own son has a history of dressing up as a fairy, as Elsa (from Frozen) and wearing headbands to school. We didn't judge, discourage or laugh. We let him be. We followed his lead. We loved him unconditionally. Now that he's seven, this stage has passed naturally. What's the big deal? Surely this has been going on throughout history?

Freedom of expression in the early years of life helps children to grow into connected and well-rounded human beings. Isn't this what we all strive for as parents? And I just wonder, too, if this may create a society full of more acceptance than the one we live in today.

We don't need gender stereotypes for our children. Nor do we need trendy labels like 'gender neutral parenting'. We just need to listen to our children's voice.

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