Talking Gender in the Early Years

Maybe you’re an early year’s professional who wants to talk to their colleagues about gender equality in the Early Years, or a parent who wants to approach their nursery or fellow family members about how they interact with children.

Whoever you are, we’ve got some top tips for explaining the problems of gender stereotypes in easy and (hopefully!) persuasive ways.

Remember, you don’t have to sit down and have a one-on-one planned serious discussion. It can be as simple as challenging small comments, or forwarding an article or video. Change one person's mind to change a culture.

Read about how to start having these sort of conversations here.

Explain what Gender Stereotypes are

If someone has never come across gender stereotypes before, or is dismissive of them existing, it is useful to start basic.

Gender stereotypes are generalised views and conceptions about how a person does or should act if they are a man or a woman.

Most people have heard gender stereotypical things before, they have probably even said them, but they might just not be aware of it.

Gender stereotypes sound like, “Girls always prefer…”, “boys don’t do…”, “girls are better at…”, “boys shouldn’t…”, “girls are naturally…”

These stereotypes often overlap with other identities – for example, “Black girls always…”, “Gay men like…”, “Autistic boys are naturally…”.

Emphasise the generalisations and how silly they sound when you think about it.

Gender Stereotypes work on the assumption that all boys will be the same and like the same things, and all girls will be the same and like the same things.

Give examples of gender stereotypes existing

It can be hard for people new to the concept of gender stereotypes to understand just how prevalent they are.

By using concrete examples you can show them that stereotypes can affect how we treat children from a very early age.

Although Gender reveal parties, are quite an American tradition, they have started migrating to the UK (despite the dangers).

Even without these parties, often before a child is even born, we have decided on their favourite colour (pink or blue), their choice of hobby (football or ballet), and their characteristics (pretty or tough).

You can point to everything, from how adults interact with them, to the toys they play with are distinctly different for boys and girls.

A government study found that when presented with the situation of a girl asking for a toy truck in a shop, 14% of people would make her put it back and pick a toy more common for girls. 33% would buy the truck, but first try to get her to pick another toy more common for girls.

You can mention this first-hand account from parents of a boy and a girl.

Talk about how gender stereotypes affect children

Gender stereotypes teach children learn about what is ‘normal’ for boys and girls.

Gender stereotypes put pressure on boys and girls to conform and fit in to these assumptions.

Children can feel bad about themselves if they don’t fit into these assumptions well enough – this has been shown to cause mental health, self-esteem and body image issues.

Children can also be bullied because they don’t meet stereotypical ideas of what it means to be a boy or a girl.

This means children are limited from doing things they might enjoy, because they are perceived as “girly” or “boyish”.

This affects children’s choices for toys, subjects at school, and careers.

Girlguiding Scotland's recent report found that 62% of girls want to be a leader in their job, but 45% thought this would be harder because they are a girl.

And splitting of toys by gender can lead to women doing more housework.

Research shows that gender stereotypes perpetuate inequality. And we know that gender inequality leads to violence against women.


Or, instead of talking about the negatives of gender stereotypes, you can talk about the positives of gender friendly play.

It is about letting children explore, express themselves and play without limits! It is fun, and builds confidence, and children enjoy it!

Share examples of children being raised this way and it not harming them, in fact to them it seems quite normal!

Why not turn the conversation round and ask them if they disagree with what the alternative looks like.

Wouldn’t they agree that girls should play with blocks if they want to? And boys shouldn’t be bullied for playing with dolls?

Tips for avoiding gender stereotypes in the early years

Maybe your conversation goes really well! They agree with you! Now they’re wondering how to change – why not share some easy to read resources to integrate this in practice?

Zero Tolerance have lots of practical and easy ways to create Gender Equal play with children.

The Girl Scouts have an excellent guide to everyday ways to bust gender-stereotypes and Let Toys Be Toys have a collection of great resources.

You can look at examples of parents who are trying to raise children in this way – like this video about splitting household chores or allowing children to play with the toys they like.

Maybe they don’t agree

Maybe the conversation doesn’t go so well. Read our tips for answering tricky questions.

What can you do?

If you agree that gender stereotypes are harmful to children, then join the movement for change!

1. Start Talking Gender – use our guides to have conversations with family, friends, nurseries, and teachers, about the harms of gender stereotypes on children

2. Download and display our #AnyoneCanPlay posters at home, at work, or give them to your child’s nursery

3. Like, comment, and our campaign posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to get more people #TalkingGender

4. Donate – Help Zero Tolerance continue to lead work in primary prevention of men’s violence against women, through tackling gender inequality

Have we missed something?

Do you have any other strategies and tips for approaching these conversations?

If you have any useful resources or tips about how to talk to friends and family about gender, race, sexuality, and disability please just let us know – we’d love to include it here!


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Related downloads

Anyone Can Play PostersAnyone Can Play Posters Print out and display our Anyone Can Play posters!

Gender Equal Play in Early Learning and ChildcareGender Equal Play in Early Learning and Childcare This resource has been co-produced by the Care Inspectorate and Zero Tolerance in order to help practitioners enhance gender equality for children across all ELC settings.