In recent years there has been a dynamic shift in parents looking to move away from stereotypical girl’s toys towards toys that can be said to empower young girls. While the concept is admirable, the true message often gets lost. The idea of gender neutral toys very much has a place in a child’s development, but in an effort to ensure that children are empowered, parents can often overlook a perfectly suitable perceived “girl’s toy” in search of a gender neutral toy. The real question that parents should be asking themselves is not how to empower my daughter, but what do I want to empower my daughter to do?
Fundamentally, all parents should want their children to have self-confidence and self-esteem. To this end, parents should look for toys that allow children to feel a sense of accomplishment and achievement. The importance here is not the gender neutrality of the toy, but its difficulty level and suitability to the child’s abilities. Building self-confidence has very little to do with gender suitability, but with age and difficulty suitability. Parents looking to build self-confidence in their daughter might find a perfectly suitable jigsaw puzzle, but discount it as it is of a princess instead of a gender neutral image. This misses the point spectacularly. If you want to build self-confidence, focus on finding a suitable challenge for your daughter.
What if you wish to empower your daughter to be confident and sporty? Again, this has very little to do finding gender neutral toys. Generally, sports toys are by their very nature gender neutral. The job of the parent is to encourage and support the child. This might mean setting time to play with them, or bring them to sports classes or practice. Constant support and encouragement is far more important than ensuring that your daughter’s ball isn’t pink. If the only ball you can find is pink, go with it. It is much more important that you are there to support them.
Do you wish to empower your child to feel academically confident? Support them with suitable toys that foster an interest in learning. This could be a chess set; a science kit or an interactive atlas. Find out what it is your daughter is interested in, and work with them to encourage and support this interest. Again, the key is in how your support them. If a child feels confident and encouraged, they will apply themselves far more extensively than a child that has confidence issues.
The point here is that you don’t need to force your daughter to play with typical boy toys in order to make them feel empowered. The issue of empowerment just isn’t that simple. It entirely depends what you want to empower them to feel or do. So what if your daughter loves playing with her dolls, if she also spends the rest of her time playing with her chemistry kit? The important thing is that she is happy and confident. Don’t get hung up on empowerment – empower your daughter to be the person she wants to be, and not the person you think she should be.