- The gender neutrality movement
- How early can a child understand gender?
- What is gender-neutral parenting?
- Is gender-neutral parenting a good idea?
- Five examples of gender-neutral parenting
- Gender-neutral teaching in schools
- Best gender-diverse books for kids
The gender neutrality movement is steadily becoming mainstream, informing how we describe our own identities and influencing how we approach marketing, toys, education, parenting techniques and more. So what’s gender-neutral parenting all about? How do you do it? And is it good for your children in the long run? Let’s get to grips with all things “gender-neutral parenting”. 👨👧👦
The gender neutrality movement
Although conversations around gender and its fluidity have become more mainstream since the turn of the century, non-binary identities have been around for centuries. 🏳️🌈
Historic examples of gender diversity include the Hijras of India, Two-Spirits of some Native American cultures, Muxes of the Juchitán region of Mexico and Fa’afafine people in Samoan culture to name a few. There are rich examples of people transcending gender norms throughout British history too.
The gender neutrality movement is the idea that policies, language and other social institutions should avoid distinguishing roles according to people's sex or gender. The disparity in gender equality throughout history has had a significant impact on many aspects of society for boys and girls. 🚸
A recent study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that enforced gender norms have a significantly negative effect on children’s development, with boys more likely to engage in physical violence, substance abuse and suicide and more than 575 million girls experiencing violations of their rights, like health, education, marriage and gender-based violence.
In order to increase gender neutrality in recent years, there has been a societal emphasis on utilising inclusive language, advocating for equality and redefining how we approach marketing, toys, education and parenting techniques.
How early can a child understand gender?
According to the NHS in the UK – and the Mayo Clinic across the pond – an individual’s awareness of gender identity is usually established by the age of two to three. This understanding continues to develop in line with standard development stages. 🧒
By the age of five, children will spontaneously characterise others by sex – boy or girl – which can coincide with the emergence of negative reactions by children to gender diversity in others, like teasing, ridicule and social exclusion.
From the age of seven years, children become more flexible in how they apply gender stereotypes and begin to appreciate that there are differences between individuals in how they express their gender identity. 🌈
What is gender-neutral parenting?
Parenting is a uniquely individual experience with different styles bringing all sorts of pros and cons with them. Gender-neutral parenting can be implemented to a greater or lesser degree depending on what you feel comfortable with as a family as well as how strongly you feel about dismantling gender stereotypes. ⚧️
Some pro-gender-neutral parents may raise their child without assigning gender at all – using the “they/them” pronouns instead – allowing them to identify their own gender at their own time. Since about 2018, the concept of “theybies” – a portmanteau of “they” and “baby”– has gained currency among progressive parents wishing to grant their kids the freedom to self-determine.
Perhaps more commonly, other parents’ approach to gender-neutral parenting focuses on extended autonomy by exposing children to diverse toys, clothes, colours and books and letting them choose whatever works for them thereby circumnavigating any predefined restrictions based on gendered norms. 👕
Generally, gender-neutral parenting is the conscious decision as a parent to be mindful of how gender stereotypes and expectations can be harmful and limiting to both boys’ and girls’ sense of self, their cognitive development and ultimately their ability to be a self-possessed and happy human.
Is gender-neutral parenting a good idea?
The ideologies behind gender-neutral parenting stem from a desire to ensure equality among children, to give them the chance to be free of restrictive norms, to self-determine their own identities and pursue interests with enthusiasm. Gender stereotypes have been proven to be harmful to children but swimming against the tide is never easy. 😓
Caregivers practising gender-neutral parenting place an emphasis on helping their children to learn decision-making skills from an early stage, raising them to love all people regardless of their gender, to follow their interests and reach for their goals despite what society might expect of them and to embrace a fluid approach to life in what is an ever-changing, fast-developing world. 🌍
However, gender-neutral parenting is still not considered the norm, so clashes between children who have differing approaches to gender are inevitable and can potentially lead to gender-neutral children getting teased or picked on at school leaving them feeling hurt and confused.
Gender-neutral parenting is also easiest when colleagues, friends, schools and extended family are open to its ideologies and willing to embrace or accept it as your chosen way of parenting. It is worth considering how your personal networks might or might not support you in your gender-neutral parenting endeavours at the outset so that you can prepare yourself accordingly. 🤝
Five examples of gender-neutral parenting
If you are keen to explore how gender-neutral parenting might work for you or you are at the outset of your gender-neutral parenting journey, perhaps some of these examples of how to implement a gender-neutral approach into your family life will help to get you started:
Begin before birth
The expectation to announce a child’s sex – and therefore their commonly associated binary gender – starts before birth with the well-intentioned but largely unnecessary question: “Is it a boy or a girl?”. Some parents are choosing to remain unaware of their baby’s sex until delivery, that way conversations during pregnancy can focus on health and happiness instead. 🤰
Embrace a unisex nursery
Much like the Montessori approach to room layout, a gender-neutral approach to designing a nursery or bedroom encourages independence and exploration. Moving away from prescribed colours on the walls and opting instead for jungle scenes or ocean creatures and placing an emphasis on creative play and freedom will let your child know that their interests are not gender-dependent. 👶
Be intentional about toys
More often than not, children’s toys are actively marketed at either boys or girls. As a parent, you can choose to avoid toys that purport to be exclusively designed for one gender or instead offer a broad selection of toys to your child so that they have equal and non-judgemental access to whatever they feel drawn to – it’s about offering up choice rather than being overly prescriptive either way. 🧸
Subvert the stereotypes
Gender norms and expectations crop up every day in online media, in conversations, in books and on tv. Gender-neutral parenting allows you to challenge these stereotypes through communication, expectations and actions. Talk to your child when someone makes a statement you feel is prescriptive or narrow, lead by example in your own actions and language and keep an open dialogue about gender and its impact on one’s sense of identity. 💬
Refer to role models
There are plenty of role models in today’s culture who are openly exploring their relationship to gender and its impact on how we see ourselves from academics and philosophers to celebrities, characters in books and online influencers. Expose your children to well-informed, progressive influences and normalise an ongoing conversation about humans and our gender identity. 🤩
Gender-neutral teaching in schools
Promoting gender equality and teaching about gender identities in schools feeds directly into the larger equality, diversity and inclusion agenda which includes other protected characteristics such as disability, ethnicity, religion and sexual identity. 🏫
Much like gender-neutral parenting, gender-neutral teaching looks to normalise gender diversity, question limited portrayals of gender, teach empathy and respect and provide a safe space for questioning and investigation.
Parent-teacher communication is key when it comes to discussing how conversations you might be having about gender at home are continued or supported at school. Here are some of the ways in which teachers and schools are implementing a gender-neutral approach: 🧑🏫
Personal entry points
Teachers, educators and school staff are encouraged to investigate their own understanding of gender and reflect on how their foundational beliefs may impact the work they do with students. Some institutions will offer training and support around these topics.
Structural entry points
Schools and education spaces can take concrete steps to ensure that gender-inclusive practices take hold like updating policies and regulations, written materials and resources, signage celebrating gender diversity, promoting the use of self-identified pronouns and inclusive toilet facilities.
Interpersonal entry points
Daily interpersonal interactions are of huge significance. Schools can place an emphasis on reinforcing their commitment to inclusion by encouraging intentional behaviour like using language that challenges binary notions of gender and supports the process of reflection with empathy and respect.
Best gender-diverse books for kids
With the relatively recent rise in popularity of social justice, activism, defining gender identities and gender-neutral parenting, today’s parents have easy access to a wide range of inclusive books for kids. Micropresses like Flamingo Rampant for example produce exclusively feminist, racially diverse, LGBTQ-positive children’s books. So, here are some of our favourites: 📚
‘My Mummy’s a Firefighter’
‘My Mummy’s a Firefighter’ by Kerrine and Jason Bryan aims to break down outdated gender stereotypes showing children that all kinds of professions are available and accessible to anyone, regardless of gender, race or background.
‘Lovely’ by Jess Hong depicts an incredible cast of diverse characters and conveys a powerful message that you don’t have to look a certain way or be a certain way to be “lovely”, instead, being uniquely you is what makes you amazing.
‘Me, My Dad And The End Of The Rainbow’
‘Me, My Dad And The End Of The Rainbow’ by Benjamin Dean tells the story of a boy trying to get his head around his parents’ separation and his dad coming out. A very special book that gently introduces LGBTQ+ issues.
‘How Frank Helped Hank’
‘How Frank Helped Hank’ by Suzanne Hemming tackles the issue of toxic masculinity in an accessible way through a story of a boy and his father and their conversations about what it means to be a boy and a man.
‘Ana on the Edge’
‘Ana on the Edge’ by A. J. Sass tells the story of a nonbinary child who is confronted with difficult choices about how to be authentic and true to herself but still pursue her ambitions in the sparkling world of competitive figure skating.
Our GoStudent tutors believe in the importance of openness, empathy and inclusivity in education. Book a free trial lesson to see how we can work with you and your child today. 🎒