Should you buy gender-specific presents for new grandchildren?

15 September 2017
What to do if your son or daughter wants their baby to be raised in line with gender-neutral principles.

Traditionally, baby girls have been dressed in pink frilly outfits adorned with bows and baby boys have worn blue babygrows featuring cars and diggers. But increasingly, parents are worried about bringing their children up in line with gender stereotypes, instead wanting them to choose their own style and interests as they grow up.

This is an issue that's been in the media a lot lately, especially in the run-up to the kids going back to school earlier this month. 

Parents feel brands are unfairly stereotyping children's genders

Shoe shop Clarks was called out for labelling its girls' and boys' school shoes ranges Dolly Babe and Leader respectively. 

Parents highlighted that this could set children up to conform with outdated gender stereotypes from an early age, with girls feeling as though they simply need to look pretty while letting the boys take charge. Following this furore, Clarks has announced that is in the process of designing a gender-neutral range of school shoes.

Meanwhile, the Advertising Standards Authority has revealed it will be clamping down on stereotyping in adverts aimed at both children and adults in the future. Examples that it gave of ads that could influence gender stereotypes included one for Aptamil baby formula, which saw baby girls growing up to be ballerinas while young boys grew into engineers.

Some parents believe that children are unfairly stereotyped from birth and a growing number of mums and dads want to make sure their kids are able to shape their own lives. As part of this, they don't want their babies to be bought gender-specific presents - something that grandparents need to bear in mind when shopping for their new grandchildren.

How to approach the subject with parents-to-be

Of course, not all expectant parents want to find out whether they're having a boy or a girl, but it's important to check with those that do how they'd like to dress their baby and what kind of toys they'd like them to be given. It's the same as when someone's having identical twins; you ask whether they're going to be dressed the same, or if they'd like different outfits bought for them.

Some parents will want little girls to be dressed from head to toe in pink, but others will want to go for neutral colours like cream or lemon yellow and allow them to pick out their own clothes in the shops as soon as they are able to, from either gender's range. 

Unfortunately, there can be some stigma attached to this among other parents. However, some brands are trying to bring an end to this, with John Lewis announcing that it would be bringing out a gender-neutral range of clothing for children in the near future.

You don't need to wait for these ranges to come out to buy non-gender-specific items for new babies though, as most newborn clothing ranges are neutral in order to avoid any of these issues in the first place. And of course, toys like teddy bears, rattles and building blocks have always been enjoyed by children of both genders, so they're a safe option if you're really worried about upsetting anyone.

What's more, buying them a mix of toys marketed towards both sexes as they get older can lead to much more creative play, with dolls driving trucks, for example, which can help little ones to develop a wider imagination.

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