How to teach kids about gender equality

Teaching children about gender equality begins early in life. What can parents say and do to help kids understand?

From early on, children begin to understand “rules” about how boys and girls should behave.

These messages around gender roles are ingrained in the language we use, the images on TV, in storybooks and in the types of games children play.

And parents play a role in helping children better understand gender equality.

Show and tell

“With young children it’s not so much what you say, but more what you do,” says Dr Gemma Hamilton, of RMIT University.

“Often parents don’t realise they treat sons and daughters differently.

“Some research found parents didn’t realise that when they read a storybook, if a character was angry or aggressive they automatically labelled that character a boy.

“If the character was sensitive and sad, the character was labelled a girl.”

Let kids follow their own interests

The games children play and the toys they play with can also reinforce gender divides, such as assuming that boys want to play with Lego, action figures, fighting toys and cars, while girls prefer to play with dolls and do arts and craft.

“From a young age, children have overlapping interests and it’s often parents who impose ideas about what they should be playing,” says Dr Hamilton.

“Instead, they can send messages that boys and girls can play whatever games they want and grow up to do whatever professions they want.”

gender equality

Parents may need to challenge ideas about gender roles that children pick up from kinder or school, Dr Hamilton says.

“Your son may come home and say they played knights and princesses and the girls couldn’t be a knight. That’s an opportunity to talk about why they think a girl couldn’t play at being a knight,” she says.

“Most importantly, let kids be kids and just be themselves.”

How to teach boys about gender equality

  • Let your son know it’s OK to cry and talk about how he can express feelings of sadness, fear and disappointment. Let him know it’s healthy to talk about feelings and to ask for help.
  • If boys describe different jobs as being for girls or boys, ask them why they think that way. Use examples that highlight how men and women they know share jobs, and do equally interesting and important jobs.
  • Break down ideas that boys are tough and dominant over women, clarify that girls are equal and that boys are not ‘better’ than girls.

How to teach girls about gender equality

  • Let girls know it’s OK for them to feel angry and to talk about managing that, for example by taking deep breaths, a sleep or time out to calm down.
  • If girls assume they can’t do certain things, talk to them about why they think that, the steps they can take to help them achieve that goal. Explain that girls can learn anything they want to.
  • Encourage girls to play with whatever toys they are drawn to and allow them to engage in activities they enjoy – don’t view certain toys and games as either boys’ or girls’ games and toys.
  • Allow girls to be loud and boisterous.

The team at House of Wellness TV asked a group of parents and their children to sit down and talk through some of life’s most important topics, including puberty, death, bullying, peer pressure and body image.

Watch what kids had to say about gender equality:

Written by Sarah Marinos.