‘What are you playing at?’

“Mummy, boys can’t play with dolls”.

“Daddy, girls don’t play football”.

How many of us parents have heard this from our children when they come home from play school, nursery or school? How do you discuss with your children? Do you encourage them to understand that they can play with dolls if they are a boy and they can play football if they are a girl? But how can you address this with them – especially if they are a stubborn threenager who knows they are right because ‘Rita told them so’?

Real life examples

The obvious answer of ‘of course they can’ often doesn’t do anything to convince them, it takes more than this abstract notion for them to understand that there is another view and our kids need the other view because otherwise their world becomes very limited very quickly. Their options dwindle by what is seen as acceptable ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ play and they are looking to us to help them understand this world, to see if this is true. The constant barrage of these can get tiring but it is worth persevering with real life examples that you can find. These are things that they can see, hear, understand and are tangible for them. The recent Football World Cup was great – children were simply watching football, it just happened that it was women on the pitch, and many girls and boys saw for the first time that this is something that both women and men do. An aspiration for both girls and boys.

published by Alanna Max Books is a useful tool. This lift flap book is one that can help to have the discussion if you are hearing any stereotypes being repeated by children. It simply challenges those every day stereotypes by showing them on the page and then you lift the flap to find an example of that exact situation. For example – ‘boys don’t cry’ (a particularly damaging one we are all familiar with) and then on lifting the flap there is a picture of a man crying, showing raw emotion in a context that is relevant – in this case it is Yannick Noah after winning the French Open. The first half is ‘boys don’t …’ the second half is ‘girls don’t …’. ‘Girls don’t play football’, is another one we will all recognise with the flap revealing Louisa Necib tackling another player in the UEFA Women’s Cup – yes, girls tackling!

This book is not one to read and then put away, this is simply the start of the discussion – one you can expand on. Find more examples with your children. Talk about why people think these things and why they are untrue. Find other examples of people whether they are friends and family or in sport or the media.

Opportunities not limitations

Children are of course very good at policing stereotypes with each other once they believe them. We need to challenge these stereotypes in order to help children challenge back when they do hear them. We know that these stereotypes are damaging children and that telling them they can’t do something because they are a boy or a girl is limiting their options, their aspirations and ambitions. We should be expanding our children’s options, giving them every opportunity not limiting them and this book can be help to enable the discussion.

Most of all this book is perfect for adults – parents, friends, shop assistants and restaurant workers who think it is ok to tell children that those toys, colours, pictures or clothes are not for them because they are a girl/boy – perhaps this book should be distributed widely to educate the population as a whole!

Let’s all show children that they can be a pink loving, super hero, football playing, flower growing boy and a car loving, blue wearing, astronaut, dancer girl and it’s up to adults to enable this choice.

You can find more information about the book at Alanna Max Books –

Thank you to Alanna Max Books who provided me a complimentary copy of the book.

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