There's No Wrong Way To Be A Boy
Planes, trains, trucks and toys… there’s nothing quite like little boys.
This quote rings in my ears every time I watch A play, and although he loves playing with planes, trains and trucks, it is not that part that caught my attention, but the – toys – part. I say this because A also loves to play with dolls, makeup and princess dresses or as he called them ‘twirly twirlies”. At 2 years old his favorite color was pink and his favorite movie is still frozen, and there is nothing wrong with that. See, I’ve always made it a point to allow him to explore and play with any and everything, because that is how they learn and develop. I love watching him swim in the mud, and stomp around like a dinosaur. I love watching him play fight like a red poweranger and catch bad guys as a police officer. I also love watching him cook a meal for his play family in his kitchen or play daddy daddy with his cousins as he nurtures and comforts his baby. That’s why I was so shocked the other day when my boy had a meltdown because his shirt had pink stripes. He was disgusted with the fact that I tried to make him wear a “girl shirt” because “I am not a girl, I am a boy and pink are for girls!”. I instantly knew that this does not come from home, but from outside and an anger grew inside of me. See, had he said that he did not like the shirt I would have happily taken a step back, but this was not about him disliking the shirt, but rather other peers or people’s opinion about what they believe to be the right thing influencing him and it was not okay.
I have seen all the posts on mommy Facebook groups, where moms say how worried they are about their boys interest in what is considered as “girl toys” or “girl colors”. I have seen the posts of worried moms asking whether this is just a phase and how they don’t want to encourage it and my heart just breaks.
So, I am here to tell you today that there is no wrong way to be a boy and extensive research has actually proven that it is healthy (yes, you read right – HEALTHY) for boys to play with so-called “girl toys”. Here is why:
1.Helps Develop Empathy
Playing with toys such as dolls actually help boys become more empathetic and affectionate as they grow older. Boys also need to develop a full range of emotions and by allowing them to explore both tough and masculine “boy toys” and the softer and gentler “girl toys” allows them to do just that. Have you ever considered why boys are more physical and all rough and tumble than girls? Isn’t it because we encourage it through the toys that we give them, shows that we allow them to watch and sports we encourage them to participate in? Parents, in general are more likely to train boys to be tough, strong, aggressive and competitive. I am not here to throw stones; in fact, I have seen this in my own life as well as in raising a boy. It’s the more “natural” thing to do, and I do believe that it’s not all wrong, but a real man is not just someone who is strong and tough, but also someone who is caring, empathetic, and gentle.
2. Toys don’t determine a child’s sexual identity
Toys don’t determine a child’s sexual identity. In fact when you refuse to permit a child to play with a specific toy you might just leave them feeling hurt and confused. Maybe you’ve heard this saying before:“toys are a child’s words.” Play therapists often refer to toys as being a child’s words – their means of communication, so, If this is the case, why wouldn’t we want to supply our children with the broadest vocabulary we could? Sure toys can help children to express their feelings, explore new ideas, and review what they have learned, but toys do not have the power to shape a child’s gender identity. We tend to forget that there are many girls who prefer to play with so called “boy toys” and we find it cute when a girl is a rough and tough tomboy ( I know. I was raised in a family of tomboys, me being one of the biggest. My sister used to fight to play rugby for the boys in primary school since rugby was not considered a girl sport at that time), we never once consider that boyish toys or sports will have an impact on a girl’s gender identity, so why is it such a big deal when the roles are reversed?
3. Achievement in Developmental Milestones
All kinds of play actually lead to higher achievement in developmental milestones for children who are actually given the choice of how to play and what to play with. The key here is to stop thinking of toys as being gender specific but rather to see toys as developmentally appropriate for the child. Toys such as dolls, play kitchens and dress up forces children to use their imaginations and can actually help to develop their social, emotional and language skills, all which I deem relatively important for both boys and girls. See, playing with these kinds of toys help children learn to interact with others and also gives them the opportunity and freedom to experience real life situations within a safe and secure environment. Arts and crafts are excellent for fine motor skills and perseverance. Likewise playing with blocks, cars and balls helps with the development of motor skills as well as language and social skills. Toys focused on action, construction and technology develops spatial skills, foster problem solving and encourage children to be active. Play is CRUCIAL as it not only helps with the development of the child, but also helps the child learn more about his or her world, therefore children need access to a wide range of toys and play experiences.
4. Well rounded adults
Refusing boys to play with so called “girl toys” can have a negative impact on their mental health, and they might miss out on some key developmental skills. According to a specific study on boy’s and girl’s toys it was found that “girly toys” focus more on physical appearance and are more likely to promote nurturing, and caregiving play and help children role-play household skills such as cooking, and cleaning. Can you see how all of these skills are necessary to grow a child into a well-rounded adult? I don’t know about you, but these are definitely skills that I want my boy to develop and activities I want him to enjoy and love. It was also proven that if girls are only exposed to very girly toys she might strongly develop her nurturing skills, but will miss out on many other developmental areas. Girls might also get the idea that her appearance should be a top priority. This same study found that boys toys on the other hand were more likely to be competitive and aggressive and will encourage risk-taking during play – once again this is important for both girls and boys in today’s world. The boy toys were also more likely to teach children about spatial relationships, science, and how to build structures. If you really take all of this in you would be able to see that if a boy is only exposed to very boyish toys they might be exposed to tons of violent play and this could encourage more aggressive reactions in real life situations, and he might miss out on some of the nurturing and family oriented skills provided by more girly toys. These are all important skills to develop as future husbands and fathers.
We need to understand that there are no boundaries, no limits to a child’s imagination and that’s how they are able to turn any and everything into a magical wonderland. They have no filters and that’s the wonder of it. It is not our jobs to create these filters for them, it is not our jobs to limit them and to place their wild imaginations into a little cage of what’s right and what’s not. No, it’s our job to give them as many opportunities as possible for them to grow and develop their imagination. Research suggests that although differences in biology could determine what toys your child is attracted to; kids also learn from adults which toys are acceptable for them to play with. The point I’m trying to make is that we need to celebrate what our children love and realize the importance behind allowing them to explore and find their way in this very confusing world.
MARKETING COMPANIES AND RETAILERS
Last but not least I do feel that it is time that marketing companies take some responsibility for the gender stereotyping when it comes to toys. How toys are labelled and displayed definitely affects consumer’s buying habits. It also subconsciously tells the kids that this toy is meant for girls and that toy is meant for boys. Children are taking in these messages what girls are “supposed to like” and what boys “are supposed to like”. Children are wise and they are always looking for those social rules and just like A they quickly find the gender rule – “this is for girls and that is for boys”. And these rigid boundaries created by marketing campaigns turn children away from their true preferences ( just like A used to like the shirt with pink lines in it), and provide a fertile ground for bullying. There are 0 benefits coming from these marketing strategies. I mean its 2021 and when last have you see a doll being advertised as being played with by a boy. There are many boy dolls available on the market, but all of them (from which I could find) were advertised as being played with by girls. Why?
A SIMPLE AND COST-EFFECTIVE SOLUTION
So, what is the solution you may ask? Well, the solution is pretty simple…Let toys be toys. Isn’t it simpler for retailers to mark toys according to themes rather than to label it as a boy’s section or girls’ section? Looking for a doll? Well, go to the doll’s aisle, maybe a remote-control car, well go to the cars aisle. This could be beneficial for both retailers as well as consumers. I know it would make my own child’s birthday and Christmas shopping a lot easier, and the solution is rather simple and cost effective.
So, yes I am that mom who will encourage her boy to play with his doll, I am the mom who happily lets him cook my meal in his play kitchen, I am even the mom who has played the dad so that my boy could be the “mommy”, I am the mom who allows my boy to dress up in princess dresses so they can twirl as he spins around, I am the mom who plays “let it go” on extra loud for the gazzilionth time because it’s my boy’s favorite song, and I am the mom who tells my boy to put on a shirt with pink stripes if he wants to BECAUSE THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH IT! It’s not just a terrible “phase” it is healthy, normal development and I am the mom who wants to raise a healthy, well-rounded, balanced, kind, gentle, loving and helpful husband, uncle, brother, or doctor one day. A man who won’t be ashamed to get his hands dirty while changing a diaper, a dad who won’t mind dressing up like a princess with his little girl, and an uncle who can go on spa days with his nieces, a husband who can cook his wife a proper meal if she needs to work late and still wash the dishes.
Moms and dads – Please hear me on this – There is NO wrong way to be a boy!
Please check out this blogpost that I wrote on 10 reasons why I let my boy play with dolls and why I believe every mom should to – https://letterstomywildling.com/2019/10/23/10-reasons-why-i-let-my-boy-play-with-dolls-why-i-believe-every-mom-should-too/
A and Mommy