We talk to our children even before they are born, with languages of love, hope, awe and attachment. We know that talking to our infants and toddlers is important for language development, intelligence, emotional health and well-being. However, what about language that might be limiting to our child’s development? What about language that begins to tell them a story of how they are seen and who they will become that may have nothing to do with who they truly are?
As a therapist, I have heard countless people describe themselves in negative ways that was most likely born of language they heard as babies and young children: princess, tough guy, drama queen, fighter, whiner, instigator, baby, etc. Not only are these terms limiting to a child’s personality development, but they’re often based on gender stereotypes that persist and negatively affect individuals across our society.
Whether we like it or not, gender often changes the way we and others interact with our children. When we use gender-specific descriptions of our children’s behaviour, they begin to sense which behaviours and expressions of emotion will be well received and which will be rejected. My own mom described my older brother as “strong” in his stoic presentation when she brought him home from the hospital as a newborn. He did not act out or vie for attention, which was described as independent, confident, and mature (he was two years old). If my brother had been a girl, he may have been described as spoiled, jealous or cold.
These gender familiar descriptions can be the first chapter in stories where boys are expected to be strong and girls are seen as over-emotional and unable to cope.
Consider your child’s uniqueness; the gifts of being emotionally sensitive as a boy who becomes a man or strongly independent as a girl who grows into a woman. Part of the richness of being a parent is to discover who our children really are, separate from us and separate from the familiar stories of their gender.
What do our children’s true personalities have to offer the world? Our babies and toddlers regardless of their gender can be bright, sensitive, determined, relaxed, thoughtful, brave, happy, angry, disappointed, active, focused, etc. As we talk to our babies and toddlers, we have the profound opportunity to use language that is about their unique strengths and their individual challenges, separate from their gender but intimately connected to their humanness and all that they have to offer the world ahead of them.
“Part of the richness of being a parent is to discover who our children really are, separate from us and separate from the familiar stories of their gender.”
By Dana Libby, Therapist, Vanier Children’s Services