Are you a member? Register / Log in

Young children are naturally open-minded, so here are a few ideas to help them stay that way

As your little one grows from a toddler to a preschooler, they’re bound to become more aware of – and vocal about – the world around them. Part of this is noticing the differences between themselves and others, and developing a greater sense of their own identity. Here are a few ways you could help them embrace those differences and make sure that stereotypes don’t stand in their way.

1. Think outside the (toy) box

Lots of girls love trucks while some boys love dolls, so there’s no need to push them towards one thing or the other. At this age it’s all about helping them to use their imaginations and it shouldn’t matter what toys they choose – as long as they’re having fun. If you’d rather keep things neutral pick up some toys that have less of a gender bias: building blocks, a multicoloured set of Lego bricks and plenty of arts and crafts. At the end of the day they each have their own personality and likes and dislikes so shouldn’t be made to feel like there are toys they shouldn’t or can’t play with just because of their sex. Equally, you may find that despite trying not to surround your daughter with pink, fluffy toys she ends up wanting pink, fluffy everything. They’ll pick up a lot of influences from the other children at preschool, and that’s fine too.

2. Question your presumptions

Play is an excellent way for your child to explore and question the world around them. Who says Barbie always has to have a baby with Ken? Maybe Barbie wants to marry Cinderella, is a single parent or wants to be a world famous football player – there should be no limits or boundaries in their imagination and it’s a great way for you as a parent to get an insight into how they see the world. There are so many possible careers, dreams and friendships, so why not encourage them to explore different scenarios while they play? It beats sending the princess down the aisle again.

3. Encourage conversation…

At preschool your little one is likely to be mixing with children from a range of different backgrounds and family set ups and they might come to you with questions. Why does Freddie have two daddies? Where is Ava’s mummy? Why can’t Jake talk like I can? Try to answer as simply and honestly as you can and your response will show them that it’s normal. If they’re concerned about a specific circumstance they’ve encountered at preschool, such as a sudden sickness or bereavement, you may find our article on explaining scary stuff to preschoolers handy.

4. …but help them understand when it’s not appropriate to ask

Everyone’s had an awkward moment on a bus when their child has pointed at someone in a not-so-subtle fashion, but as they get older you can show them they don’t always have to say everything they think there and then. Don’t get cross, they’re just curious – but do try to judge the situation to see how the person at the centre of your child’s attention is feeling. Some people might welcome the opportunity to talk about their lifestyle or condition, whereas others might feel very uncomfortable. As the grown up it’s up to you to judge the situation for your child and if it’s all getting a bit awkward, try distracting them. You can always go back to the topic later on when you’re alone and talk to them about what they saw – that way you can answer any questions they might have.

5. Let them explore!

Play for your preschooler should be about encouraging them to express themselves and it’s fascinating to watch their personalities develop. So, don’t be alarmed if your little boy suddenly wants to dress up as Elsa complete with plaits, high heels and jewellery. At this age, they’re probably just experimenting and to them it’s no different to putting on a cape and mask to be Batman. Likewise they might want to mess around with make-up. Boys and girls alike love it – they’ve probably seen it being used and the colours, brushes and little pots are fascinating to inquisitive minds. If you’re willing to let them try a few splodges for themselves, just remember to hide your best lipstick first…

Want to find more ways to inspire your little one? Check out our imaginative play ideas.

Please note: The NHS says that for most young children it’s just a part of growing up that passes with time, but if your child strongly and persistently identifies as another gender over a long period, you can always contact your GP for guidance.