Ever pulled into a popular fast food drive-thru and asked for a kid's meal? Chances are, the attendant asked you, "For a boy or for a girl?" According to the laws of marketing to kids, trucks are for boys and princesses are for girls. It's as rigid as pink and blue. Teach your kids to question these standards and accept individuals who refuse to fall into rigid gender roles.
Begin teaching early
Little kids aren't born with gender expectations. Toddlers begin to learn from what they see and what they're told. School-aged children learn from peers and commercials and toys. While a 3-year-old boy might ask to take ballet classes, a 6-year-old might not because he's learned from his friends that dance classes are only for girls. Influence your children through example and conversation. If you hear your child speaking with generalizations, use those moments as teaching opportunities. Try asking your child if certain numbers are for girls only or boys only. Liken colors to numbers. Why should any particular color be for a boy or a girl? Focus on how arbitrary many gender expectations are. Share with older kids that as late as the 1920s, parents were encouraged to dress little boys in pink and little girls in blue.
Allow for individuality
Teaching children to reject rigid gender roles doesn't mean forcing a child to behave in a different way. If your daughter wants to play with dolls and princess games all day, there's nothing wrong with that. The key is to be accepting and to teach acceptance. In our society, it's often more acceptable for a girl to play with boy toys or to wear tomboyish clothing than it is for a little boy to show interest in girl toys and clothes. Teach your children to question the messages presented by toy manufacturers and the entertainment industry.
Speak out against bullying
Part of protecting children from bullying is teaching children not to be bullies. Judgmental behavior is learned, and as a parent, you can discourage it from early on. When talking to older kids, distinguish gender identity from sexual orientation. Pay attention to the messages your children receive from peers and other adults. Most kids experience times of feeling as if they don't fit in. Prompt your child to consider how it would feel to be teased or hurt for having a unique identity. If your child is being bullied, work closely with school officials to put a stop to bullying at school.
Know what you're up against
If you raise open-minded children, you can't expect the world to keep up at your pace. Many schools and communities aren't ready to openly accept children who don't fit into strict gender roles. Adults may justify and encourage bullying behaviors. Even parents who want to be accepting may discourage certain behaviors with the rationalization that they're protecting kids from being teased. Every family is unique. The best you can do is accept and support your kids, and encourage them to do the same for their peers.