With the rise of movements like #MeToo, #EqualMeansEqual, and #HeForShe, the Internet is flooded with ideas for how parents today can help their children develop a healthy, humanist mindset – one that respects and encourages beyond simple tolerance.  So, how do we nurture a healthy gender awareness?

“Gender norms” (according to a research document put out by Hispanics in Philanthropy) refer to “the customs and beliefs members of a community share for how to be masculine or feminine, for what is expected of women and men.” These behavior “norms” vary from culture to culture, and some researchers refer to “masculinities” and “femininities” in the plural. For example, Hispanic cultures stress masculine pride and domination, and feminine obedience and self-denial. But what about the little boys in these cultures who don’t naturally feel dominant, or the little girls who naturally do?

Problems arise with the application of ethical language, words like “should,” “must,” even “normal.” These conceptual prisons dictating behaviors are tough to break down. I’d like to share some brilliant (yet simple) ways we can teach our children and change this.

According to a Huffington Post article, “How to Teach your Sons and Daughters about Feminism” (UK Edition, 08/03/2018, Packman), “Experts believe that teaching gender equality is about reminding all kids – regardless of their gender – to express themselves how they wish and explore their own identity.” But before we can support the independent choices of our children they need a solid foundation to become confident to begin self-actualization for themselves and appreciation of others’ choices. Yes, even in our youngest children!

The best place for this process to commence is in the safety of home, with parents, siblings, and friends. There needs to be an understanding of gender equality before children begin to enter the world of adolescent society – because by then it can be too late.

A primary and critical element is that children need to feel able to express themselves, without repercussions. What if every child’s role model made an effort to teach their little ones how to express themselves and truly accept those around them? Maybe these children wouldn’t perpetuate a harsh, judgmental, sexist, racist, and religion persecuting world.

The following list shows  five simple ways to plant healthy seeds of Developmental Gender Awareness. Children maturated on these principles could play active roles in contributing to a humanist, gender active movement that is shifting even as you read this article. Raising children with these guidelines will prepare them to be understanding, accepting, and tolerant. The process: Identify. Discuss. Explore.

  1. Ask Simple Questions to nurture critical gender equality awareness. This is about teaching through small daily examples. Point out and then examine when boys and girls are not treated the same. Explore and openly discuss inequalities. Asking simple questions, like, “Do you think that was fair?” or “Just now, were the boys and girls treated equally?” Plant the idea of critical awareness. A further step is, “How would that make you feel?” “Did anyone get left out?” “What would you like to be able to do about that?” Continually build and reinforce the programming that everyone can do what the opposite gender can do and your kids will begin to internalize that it is true.
  2. Choose Your Words Wisely. Neuro-Linguistic-Programming has shown that words have a life of their own. Nothing wrong with telling your son or daughter that they are beautiful, AND other words like thoughtful, strong, loving, giving, brave, incredible and brilliant, matter too. For all kids, rather than focusing on gender-based adjectives, reach for words that will build up your children to be who they can be, with encouragement. Eventually you can play a game with your kids… “Pick Another Word” to expand perspectives.
  3. Say Goodbye to Stereotypes. Call out stereotype messaging. Identify and rebuke sayings like “Boys will be boys,” or “Act like a lady.” Show your kids how these phrases limit behavior to confining boxes. What does “boys will be boys” even mean? Be tough? Don’t cry? Burping and swearing is better than manners? Only girls have manners? It’s time to start working against stereotypes and never use gender as a reason for kids to do or not do something. If this feels uncomfortable for you, remember, you’re building a foundation for confidence and happiness in your child and thereby the whole world.
  4. Point out Real-life Gender Equality. It’s everywhere. You just have to find it and point it out. Discuss LGBTQ individuals who perform normally gender biased roles. Talk about powerful female celebrities who are making a difference in our world. Openly discuss traditional gender biased reversals, Show your sons and daughters that they can be or do anything they want – regardless of gender. Identify and celebrate with your kids as many differences as you can find!
  5. Raise Media Savvy Kids. Unfortunately, gendered content for children is still extremely prevalent. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children see an average of 3,000 over-sexualized images on TV, magazines, billboards, and Internet sites per day. It’s important to sit and share your children’s media, and talk to them about it. When gender bias appears, ask them their thoughts, share yours with them. Don’t ignore what’s going on. Address the issues surrounding them head on so they feel comfortable addressing them, too.

We have the capacity with Developmental Gender Awareness to build a healthy and supportive society where the only thing not tolerated is intolerance.

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