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Dealing with Difficult Gender Issues
Authors: Jodi Putnam with Judith A.Myers-Walls and Dee Love

When a child comes to childcare dressed in nice clothing

A little girl may come to your center dressed in frilly clothes that are hard to play in. You could explain to her parents that you engage in a lot of active and outdoor play. Tell them that it would be easier for her if she wore more comfortable clothing.

Sometimes a little girl wants to wear nice clothing to childcare. You could explain to her that her clothes may get dirty or damaged when she plays. Tell her that it might be better if she wore clothes that could get dirty. She also needs to be able to move around in the clothes. If it is okay with her and with her parents that her clothes get dirty, it may be okay to wear special things.

When a child plays with “girl” toys or “boy” toys

A child’s parents may become upset because their son is playing with dolls or their daughter is playing with trucks. You could explain to them that you want children to try lots of different activities. By playing with trucks, their daughter is learning about motion, speed, and angles. By playing with dolls, their son is learning how to care for another person. He is preparing himself to be a nurturing father to his own children some day.

When a boy wants to wear nail polish or dress up clothes

Parents may worry because their son likes to wear nail polish or put on dress-up clothes. You could explain to them that he is using his imagination and creativity to explore paint on his fingers and to coordinate clothing. He is also imitating what he sees others do. This is a very healthy part of his learning process.

When a girl wants to play with blocks, machines, or science activities

Parents may become upset because their daughter enjoys building with blocks, experimenting with chemistry sets, and investigating machines. You could explain to them that she is learning about math and science through these activities. She is using lots of thinking skills, which will help to prepare her for math and science classes in school.

When a child gets dirty

Parents may become upset about their daughter coming home dirty. (Of course, parents of boys may complain about this, too!) You could explain to them that children learn best through hands-on experiences. Good childcare providers encourage children to use their five senses to explore their world. It is okay to get messy, because children can learn the importance of cleaning up. It is okay to make a mess because that is how children learn!

When a child wants to do only gender-stereotypical activities

Sometimes children want to do things that are stereotypical even if parents and teachers do not encourage it. That can be frustrating, but it is typical behavior for young children. Young children go through stages where they enjoy behaving in stereotypical ways. Parents and teachers should accept this behavior and continue to encourage children to engage in lots of different activities.

Dealing with comments by other people

Some parents may be worried that other people are teaching their children gender stereotypes. They may worry that everyone always tells their little girl that she is pretty. Or they may worry about how often people tell their little boy that he is tough or will be a football player. You could tell the parents that the comments they make to their child are more important than the comments of other people. You could also encourage the parents to add their own comments after other people say things. They could say, “She also really likes riding her bike.” Or they could say, “He has been helping me cook dinner, too.”

Go to:  • Influences on children's gender development
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For more information, contact Judith A. Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE at

Please feel free to link to, print off, redistribute, or reprint
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