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How to talk to your child about gender stereotypes

While we have come a long way in tackling gender inequality, cultural stereotypes about gender can be difficult to break. They can affect both boys’ and girls’ self-esteem and narrow their own perceptions of what is possible for them.

Here are some ways that you can support your child when it comes to challenging these stereotypes:

Set an example

Where possible, try to avoid phrases based on gender, such as “that’s not very lady-like” or “man up”. Allowing boys to express themselves is essential for their emotional wellbeing.

You could also share household tasks with your partner, so your child can see that gender doesn’t define expectations of them. The responsibility of domestic duties has been identified as one of the primary reasons that women are held back in their careers.

Encourage critical thinking

When you next watch a TV show together, scroll through social media or read a magazine, talk to your child about the way they see women and men represented. Is there an emphasis on female appearances that is absent from the way men are spoken about? Are men depicted to be physically strong and assertive? Ask your child how this makes them feel and whether they believe that these representations are fair and accurate.

Don’t equate appearance with self-worth

Overhearing a throw-away comment about a scantily clad female singer in a music video can give girls the message that appearance is closely linked to their values and personality.

Praise your child for what they do, not what they look like. Though it can come from the most well intentioned and loving place to compliment their appearance, this reinforces the idea that this is what is most valued and can affect their self-esteem.

Encourage your child to pursue their interests regardless of their gender

If your child wants to engage in activities, wear clothes or play with toys typically assigned to the opposite gender, ensure they feel comfortable doing so. You could explore career options together with an older child. Let them know how open their options are, and that gender should never be a limit for their ambitions.

Don’t worry if you make mistakes

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, bear in mind that reductive gender stereotypes have been around for centuries. It is impossible for you to control everything that your child is exposed to. You shouldn’t feel bad if you can’t break out of some of these gender stereotypes yourself. Making a conscious effect is enough and will help boost your child’s self-esteem.

The free Uniquely Me parent guide is packed with much more advice and some practical activities to help support you with boosting your child’s body confidence and self-esteem.

Read, download or print the free Uniquely Me parent guide

This downloadable pdf contains expert advice from Dove Self-Esteem Project global experts from the fields of psychology, body image, self-esteem, eating disorders and media representation to create a resource for parents that is focused on advice and action. Click on 'Files: Uniquely Me parent guide.pdf' at the foot of the page to download.

Teachers: for free downloadable teaching resources, go to the Dove Self-Esteem Project area

These pages are brought to you by Parent Zone and the Dove Self-Esteem Project

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP.

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