Let me be clear from the outset (before I anger you) I’m not suggesting we should categorise kids as Tomboys or Girly Girls. I’m not sure exactly what a tomboy or a girly girl is to be honest? It seems the rest of the world doesn’t quite agree with me though. But is this an issue?
I’m a Tomboy aren’t I?
My eldest step daughter (6) said to me the other day :
” I’m a tomboy aren’t I? ”
Not really as a question, but more as a statement of fact. I told her she isn’t. She is a mix of lots of things like all people are. She was quite insistent that she doesn’t like ‘girly’ things and so was a Tomboy. At which point our 4-year chirped up with ‘I’m a girly girl, I like princesses’.
A Bit of Everything
Personally, I think I can be summed up in one neat sentence ‘Walking Boots and Stilettos’. You may find me romping around the countryside with my dog in walking boots and waterproofs covered to the knees in mud. On the other hand, you may come across me glammed up to the nines with false everything stuck to me and really very large hair. Actually, one of my most comfortable places is sat in front of a computer doing technical wizardry, which would previously have been thought of as a very male role. People are multifaceted, right? To be just one thing would be ever so dull. So, while having a preference for things which are traditionally thought of boy things or girl things doesn’t define me. And it shouldn’t define our kids.
Why do kids categorise themselves?
The Science Bit
This is an interesting one. I’ve learnt so much on this topic by doing
some reading around in various medical journals and child behaviour books- it’s really enthralling (don’t look at me like that, I know I’m a geek)
It seems that from around 3 years old children naturally develop the skill of categorising. This is backed up by the UK national curriculum which encourages and develops this skill. At first kids want to play with other children about the same age. As they develop their grouping skills further they may decide that all girls are this and all boys are that. It is a natural progression of distinguishing people. At the stage when children are naturally grouping people based on age and gender it only makes sense that they will be more aware of their own position in these groups. It’s a natural thing for them to categorise themselves and Tomboy is just a word they can use for this.
As we get older we learn to group things in multifaceted, complex groups based on a whole host of things we learn and experience. Perhaps we learn that these groups are no longer necessary in order to make sense of the world? (In some cases, people obviously continue to judge based on broad groups but let’s not go into that.)
Does it Matter?
Well this is a contentious question if I ever read one. People views vary widely on whether gender classification of young children is a damaging thing or not. For what it’s worth (which may be very little) my opinion is that whilst it’s not the best thing to encourage gender stereotyping; we also need to be aware that our children will learn more complex ways of differentiating people with time. This grouping is natural at a young age and my 6 year old classifying herself as a Tomboy is likely something she will grow out of. As long as she knows that she is encouraged to be whoever she wants to be. That she is in a safe loving environment where being herself is always accepted, well that’s good enough for me.
What can we do?
Interestingly I came across this KickStarter recently on Twitter which dealt with this very problem (I’m not connected to it any way). It aimed to create a childrens book in which the girl isn’t always the princess or the damsel in distress. Now this is something I can get behind. If my little one sees herself fighting the dragon rather than being rescued by the handsome knight then I want her to have something that she can relate to. A love of reading is such a valuable gift we can give to our kids and relatable characters really help with that. I’ve contributed to the kickstarter (which is something I very rarely do) and I’m really very much looking forward to the book.