Advice Column, Child, Parenting

Boys and girls play differently

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Is this genetics or destiny? 

Nature verses nurture?

When observing a playground full of children, it is typical of the boys to be running and chasing each other noisily in large groups whilst the girls prefer to sit one on one, chatting and engaging in make believe games. When given the choice of toys the girls tend to gravitate towards dolls and soft toys, whereas the boys choose cars and blocks to build. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, but it begs the question- are boys and girls brains ‘wired’ differently?

Culturally speaking gender stereotyping starts straight after conception, a nursery will be painted pink or blue if the sex of the child is known. Otherwise if the sex is unknown the nursery will be gender neutral. In the past children may have observed their mothers as being more nurturing and in charge of domestic tasks such as cooking and cleaning; a father’s role to be the bread winner in the family. In some modern-day societies, we have seen a change in these roles, with stay- at -home dads being more of a trend and moms providing the lion’s share of the household income. How much influence does this have on a child’s gender identification?

Simply walking into a department store it is easy to spot the girl’s and boy’s section by colour, girls having fewer practical choices in pink and ‘girly’ colours. Even in toy shop products are packaged clearly to attract either girls or boys. Is this influencing the way in which children play? If clothes and toys where presented differently would this have an effect?

Scientists suggest the hormones in utero and biological origin have a larger impact on how children play. For example, males are born with more muscle mass than females making them more interested in physical activities. A baby girl’s language is more advanced than her male counterpart’s making them more inclined to play fantasy games with dolls and dress-up clothes. Typically, girls can’t wait to partake in arts and craft exploring their more superior fine motor skills. However, the boys prefer outdoor activities, climbing on the jungle gyms, riding bikes and running around on the playground. 

As parents and educators, we should offer children a wide range of activities and opportunities to develop as individuals and discover their own skills. Boys can be given soft toys and encouraged to be nurturing within families expressing a more sensitive side. Girls on the other hand can be encouraged to challenge themselves physically and be more adventurous. Children should not be shamed or discouraged for their choice of toys or games but rather be able to explore freely without prejudice.

By Shelly Koekemoer, Teacher at Maragon Ruimsig

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