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Preschoolers’ Perceptions of Gender Appropriate Toys and their Parents’ Beliefs About Genderized Behaviors: Miscommunication, Mixed Messages, or Hidden Truths?


Young children construct understandings of gender during the preschool years. They accurately apply common gender stereotypes to toys by the time they are three and readily predict their parents’ opinions about gender-typical and cross-gender play. This study involved 3- and 5-year-old children in identifying “girl toys” and “boy toys”. It also asked them to predict their parents’ reactions to their choices of gender-specific toys. These children’s parents were surveyed in an effort to describe their preferences about gender-specific toys and behaviors. Responses indicated that, in spite of evidence that many of these parents reject common gender stereotypes, their children predicted parents would consistently apply these stereotypes as reflected by their approval or disapproval of children’s choices to play with gender stereotyped or cross-gender toys. The mis-match between parents’ self-described beliefs and children’s perceptions of the messages they have received about genderized play are discussed.

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  1. Examples of websites with prominent sections organized by gender include toy stores and manufacturers,, and furniture/ furnishing vendors such as


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Correspondence to Nancy K. Freeman.



Child-Rearing Sex-Role Attitude Scale (Adapted from Burge, 1981)

Directions: Please indicate your opinion about each statement. Do you Strongly Agree, Strongly Disagree, or is your opinion somewhere in between these extremes? Mark one choice for each item.

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Freeman, N.K. Preschoolers’ Perceptions of Gender Appropriate Toys and their Parents’ Beliefs About Genderized Behaviors: Miscommunication, Mixed Messages, or Hidden Truths?. Early Childhood Educ J 34, 357–366 (2007).

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  • Gender
  • parental attitudes
  • gender development
  • gender stereotypes
  • gender-specific
  • cross-gender
  • gender socialization
  • early childhood
  • preschool
  • young children
  • preschoolers
  • toys
  • play
  • play preferences
  • Title IX
  • sex roles