Reading aloud is one of the best things parents can do for their young kids ― teaching them about the world and themselves, and even changing the structural makeupThey are their brains.
But a new study serves as a stark reminder that the “what” and the “how” matter. When researchers analyzed 247 books for children up to age 5 (including a mix of the bestsellers and titles pulled from “best of all time” lists), they found evidence of many gender stereotypes ― for example, that girls are better at language and boys are better at math.
Stories often use gendered concepts and language. When girls are the protagonists, books are more likely to use words that convey affection, or to contain words like “explain” and “listen.” When boys are the protagonists, plots and language tend to focus more on work, transportation and tools.
“There is often kind of a cycle of learning about gender stereotypes, with children learning stereotypes at a young age then perpetuating them as they get older,” study researcher Molly Lewis, special faculty in the social and decision sciences and psychology departments at the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said in a press release. “These books may be a vehicle for communicating information about gender. We may need to pay some attention to what those messages may be and whether they’re messages you want to even bring to children.”
Lewis emphasized that she and her co-researchers are not looking to destroy families’ relationships with, say, Amelia Bedelia or Curious George. There are exceptions. AreThere are simple actions caregivers can take that will help to fight gendered language in picture books and stereotypes. Here’s a list.
Take a critical look at your child’s library
One of the best ways parents can offer a counterweight to gender stereotypes in children’s books — and this applies to stereotypes of all kind, really — is to make sure kids have access to gender-inclusive books at home and the library. The internet is full of lists of representative children’s book titles, including many that center LGBTQ characters. These are book finders and collectionsThis can also be helpful.
In some gender-inclusive books, a character’s gender or sexuality is central to the plot; other times it isn’t. These books, also known as “gender-inclusive”, are often called: “any child”Books can also be very powerful. You want to achieve a mixture.
“It Does matter which books you read,” Jennifer Goldstein, head of books with A Kids Book AboutHuffPost received the following statement from. “Seeing strong representation of someone like you in a proactive, positive role is a building block for your future self.”
Make sure that you’re not just reading male protagonist books to boys, but also books featuring female protagonists for girls. The researchers behind the new study found that children are most often exposed to stereotypes about their own gender, suggesting parents aren’t necessarily mixing it up.
“It’s important for all of us to see all kinds of folks doing everyday and important things. This means all genders are visible, including cisgender, transgender, and nonbinary,” Goldstein said. “Reflect the actuality of humanity as a whole. This is a lifelong skill, and opens up for all people the idea that we all can do everything.”
As tools, you can make use of iffy book
Odds are pretty good that your child is going to love a book or two that isn’t exactly open-minded about gender roles. But you don’t have to toss books like these. Use them instead. You can use books to help you explore difficult topics. This is especially true for children who are just starting out their brains. millions of neural connections by the second.
“Every children’s book is a moment of pleasure and a moment of education,” said Diane Ehrensaft, director of the Mental Health, Child and Adolescent Gender Center with UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in San Francisco.
They are not too young.y’re not too young. The American Academy of Pediatrics points out that children learn a lot about what they think gender role behaviors are, and what they “should” be, early on — like, by age 4.
Simply notice the basic stereotypes you see and make a note of them.
“You can say something like, ‘I’m looking at this and I’m wondering why does Sylvia always have to wear pink? And why can’t Jeremy be wearing pink?’” Ehrensaft said. “You can just say, ‘I’m wondering why should that be? And why shouldn’t that be a people color?’”
Goldstein also offered some questions to help you get the discussion moving:
“Do you think it matters what your gender is in order to be a doctor? A chef? Driving a race car? How to make clothing? Why?”
“At school, does your gender help you to learn the alphabet? Count down to 10. Use a pencil? Do you read a book? Why?”
“In our home, who does what? Why?”
Grab your Post-its!
You can also make it a collaborative activity by using Post-its to help you both rewrite the book. If there’s something you’d like to point out or push back on — like the same simple example of all of a book’s female characters wearing pink, while all the boys wear blue — stick the Post-it in the book. Maybe write a thought bubble where a male character says: “Gee, I’d like to wear pink sometime.”
“It’s a creative activity with your child, so you don’t have to put those books away. You can use them and edit them,” Ehrensaft said. Also, it’s fun for kids to play author. Ehrensaft also noted that this gives kids a sense a agency.
Not every book has to be an instructional moment. No one of the experts interviewed to this article said that it was true. Sometimes you will find that your toddler/preschooler just wants to curl up and read a book together, without thinking about the deeper message. Don’t force it.
“You should never make a child read what you believe,” Ehrensaft said. If they do have instances when pink seems most strongly to them, you should not argue or lecture them. Is a girl’s color. They’re little and they’re learning. Their parents are learning as well.
“It’s the opening of a conversation,” Ehrensaft said.