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

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1.
Fig. 2.
Fig. 3.
Fig. 4.
Fig. 5.
Fig. 6.
Fig. 7.
Fig. 8.

Notes

  1. 1.

    Examples of websites with prominent sections organized by gender include toy stores and manufacturers www.toysrus.com, http://www.mattel.com, and furniture/ furnishing vendors such as http://potterybarnkids.com/

References

  1. Burge P. L. (1981). Parental child-rearing sex-role attitudes related to social issue sex-role attitudes and selected demographic variables. Home Economics Research Journal, 9(3), 193–199

    Google Scholar 

  2. Cahill B., & Adams, E. (1997). An exploratory study of early childhood teachers’s attitudes about gender roles. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 36(7/8), 517–529

    Google Scholar 

  3. Daniel, D. (1999, July). The name game. Bicycling, 25

  4. Fagot B. I., & Littman, I. (1975). Stability of sex role and play interests from preschool to elementary school. Journal of Psychology, 89, 285–292

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Fisher-Thompson D. (1990). Adult sex typing of children’s toys. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 23(5), 291–304

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Frawley T. (2005). Gender bias in the classroom: Current controversies and implications. for teachers. Childhood Education, 81, 221–227

    Google Scholar 

  7. Kohlberg L. (1966). A cognitive-developmental analysis of children’s sex role concepts and attitudes. In E. E. Maccoby (Ed.), The development of sex differences (pp. 82–172). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

    Google Scholar 

  8. Kohlberg L., & Ullian, D. Z. (1974). Stages in the development of psychosexual concepts and attitudes In R. C Friedman R. M. Richart & R. L. Vande Wiele (Eds.). Sex differences in behavior (PP. 209–222). New York: John Wiley & Sons

    Google Scholar 

  9. Martin C. L. (1990). Attitudes and expectation about children with nontraditional and traditional gender roles. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 22(3/4), 151–165

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Martin C. L. (1995). Stereotypes about children with traditional and nontraditional gender roles. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 33(11), 727–752

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Martin C. H., Wood J., Little J. K. (1990). The development of gender stereotype components. Child Development, 61(6), 1891–1905

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Martin C. L., & Ruble, D. (2004). Children’s search for gender cues: Cognitive perspectives on gender development. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13(2), 67–70

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Moulton J. L, III, & Adams-Price, C. E. (1997). Homosexuality, heterosexuality, and cross-dressing: Perceptions of gender discordant behavior. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 37(5/6), 441–451

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Powlishta K. K., Serbin L. A., & Moller, L. C. (1993). The stability of individual differences in gender typing: implications for understanding gender segregation. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 29(11–12), 723–738

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Raag T, & Rackliff, C. L. (1998). Preschoolers’ awareness of social expectations of gender: relationships to toy choices. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 38(9/10), 685–701

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Russell R., & Tyler, M. (2002). Thank heaven for little girls: ‘Girl Heaven’ and the commercial context of feminine childhood. Sociology, 36(3), 619–637

    Google Scholar 

  17. Sadker M., & Sadker, D. (1994). Failing at fairness: How our schools cheat girls New York: Touchstone

    Google Scholar 

  18. Sandnabba K. N., & Ahlberg, C. (1999). Parents’ attitudes and expectations about children’s cross-gender behavior. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 40(3-4), 249–257

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Turner P. J., & Gervai, J. (1995). A multidimensional study of gender typing in preschool children and their parents: personality, attitudes, preferences, behavior, and cultural differences. Developmental Psychology, 31(5), 759–773

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nancy K. Freeman.

APPENDIX

APPENDIX

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.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-006-0123-x

Download citation

Keywords

  • 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