The age old mantra, “Be yourself,” is easier said than done, especially for preschoolers. Children are constantly faced with gender stereotypes shown in the media and by adults they look up to. In addition, preschoolers are especially susceptible to stereotypes because their thought process relies on categorizing things in order to understand them. They will latch on to a stereotype far more quickly than an adult encountering one for the first time. Therefore, it’s important not to enforce gender roles on children while they are still developing their own personal identity, especially at school.
Classrooms can concentrate these stereotypes as children take cues from their peers and teachers. As a teacher, it is your job to monitor the behavior that goes on in your classroom to ensure that children are able to develop their own identity without fear of being stereotyped.
Children Need to Develop Their Own Identity
Expectations can be stressful, especially when a single person’s expectations are reinforced by the target’s environment. Whether we accept it or not, we have expectations of how boys should act and how girls should act. For example, boys should be active and assertive while girls should be passive and polite. When children don’t meet those gendered expectations, they’re met with negative reinforcements like guilt, shame, and sometimes even violence.
This problem isn’t a new one. You can see evidence of the inherent stress of gender roles in the comments of the wildly popular music video “Little Games,” which was created by a fifteen year old boy on YouTube last month. Several thousand comments show that many people relate to the video’s surreal presentation of gender role intimidation through their own childhood experiences.
This kind of stress can lead a lot of children to form their own identity and others’ around these gender roles. Doing so can lead to the child not living up to their full potential as well as a lifetime of low self-esteem and discrimination.
Monitor Your Behavior
It’s much easier to notice gender discrimination in others than in ourselves. Be mindful of how you speak and act around boys and girls in the classroom. Do you treat boys and girls the same when they cry? Are both boys and girls reprimanded when they interrupt you or praised when they sit quietly? Children will quickly pick up on how boys and girls are treated differently unless you have the same expectations for them.
Monitor Your Classroom’s Behavior
As stated above, children naturally categorize their surroundings in an effort to understand them. Therefore, discrimination will occur in your classroom when a child sees someone else acting or looking differently than what they are used to. Never reinforce or ignore this behavior and be sure to consistently communicate the importance of equality and respect in your classroom.