How to Raise Kids Who Believe in Gender Equality

How to Raise Kids Who Believe in Gender Equality

by Amy Juschka

We all want our children to grow up to be caring, thoughtful and socially conscious people. Part of this means raising them to believe in and stand up for gender equality. 

We asked parents from across the YWCA for advice on how moms and dads can give their children—both girls and boys—the solid foundation they need to become the feminists of tomorrow!

Let them see your own feminism every day. 

Social learning science teaches us that children’s development happens through observation and imitation. Modelling your own feminism can mean anything from showing love for your body (no complaining about your “big thighs” or saying that you “hate your nose”) to filing a complaint with a local retailer for running a sexist ad campaign. No matter where you are on the activist spectrum, let your kids see your feminism in action.

Andrea, YWCA Legal Educator says:

“Find everyday opportunities to walk your talk. I raised my kids in a household where we always use gender-neutral pronouns; I took my kids to the Pride Parade and bought them each a t-shirt that said, ‘Don’t Assume I’m Straight!’—basically do what you do every day and let your kids see you doing it.”

Acknowledge the parenting power of fathers.

Break the biological determinism that says women parent and men work. Today’s dads come in many forms: they can be single or married; externally employed or stay-at-home; gay or straight; adoptive or step-parents. What we do know is that dads' affection and increased family involvement help promote children's social and emotional development.

Peter, YWCA Career Advisor says:

“I teach my boys by modelling my own behaviour. Whether it’s self-care, my relationship with [my wife] or with other people, with the planet or with our community. My hope is that it rubs off on them.”

Start early. 

It’s never too early to start talking about equality with your children. Find opportunities in everyday life for teachable moments.

Puspa, YWCA Marketing Communications Specialist says:

“If we read or see something with our son, Jayden, that perpetuates stereotypes we always address them right away and continue to have good discussions when we see great or not so great examples.”

Teach them that gender is fluid.

Gender is one of the first social categories children become aware of. By the time they are 3 years old, they have formed their gender identity. So much of what limits boys and girls is rooted in socially constructed ideas about what one is or isn’t permitted to do within their gender. Let your children take the lead and experience their gender with as much fluidity as they wish. 

Teach them about healthy sexuality.

Teaching your kids about healthy sexuality is as important as teaching them about safety, nutrition and acceptable social behaviour. It’s important to be both helpful and approachable as a parent.

  • Start conversations about sexuality rather than waiting to be asked
  • Give them real names for their body parts 
  • Give honest answers about sex and sexuality
  • Assure them that you will answer any question about sex no matter how awkward or uncomfortable the topic might be

Need some help? Check out the BC Council for Families’ resources on teaching your kids about sex and relationships.

Teach them about body autonomy and how to exercise their own consent.

Body autonomy is the right to control our own body and to decide what happens to it. Allowing your kids to exercise their own consent (in ways that are age-appropriate) ensures that they grant the same body autonomy to others. Some ways to empower your kids to practice body autonomy include: 

  • Giving them a say when it comes to when they eat or sleep (within reason)
  • Telling them they have a right to say stop when they feel uncomfortable, regardless of who the person is
  • Giving them real names for their body parts
  • Never forcing them to hug or kiss people (including grown-ups and family members)
  • Teaching them to respect others when they say no or stop
  • Trusting their abilities in age-appropriate ways

Teach them emotional intelligence.

According to Psychology Today, emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions. Children with high EQ become empathetic, engaged and nurturing adults who respect and value others.

Puspa, YWCA Marketing Communications Specialist says:

“I teach my son empathy by making gender equality issues personal to him. I’ll ask things like, ‘How would you feel if that happened to you/mom/dad/our family etc.’” 

Need help fostering emotional intelligence in your kids? Our friends at the Dalai Lama Centre for Peace + Education launched Heart-Mind Online, a repository of research-informed information and activities for parents, grandparents and caregivers.

Encourage them to celebrate diversity.

“Kids don’t come with instructions, but they do come with open minds.” – Dr. Christopher Metzler

As parents, we’re positioned to guide our children to appreciate the differences that make each of us unique. Explaining diversity in a way that is understandable to kids can be challenging, but is integral to raising kids who treat others fairly. Here are a few tips to get started:

  • Recognize that you may hold your own conscious or unconscious biases and work on addressing them.
  • Talk to your kids about stereotypes: how they can be divisive and don’t always tell the whole story.
  • Find age-appropriate ways to bring diversity into your children’s lives. And not just cultural diversity—diversity of thought, experience, socio-economic status, sexual orientation and identity—the list goes on!

Teach them about media literacy.

According to Active Healthy Kids Canada’s 2014 Report Card, Canadian children and youth ages 6-19 average about 7 hours of screen time per day!

And no matter how hard we try, our kids will be exposed to media that features sexualization and violence. According to MediaSmarts, this kind of content can lead to increased fear, desensitization of real-life violence and increased aggressive behaviour. 

Do your best to control the types of content your kids consume, but because monitoring can only go so far, it’s important to teach kids about how to look critically at these messages. 

Michelle, YWCA Vice President says:

“When watching television with your kids ask them about their perspectives on what they’re seeing and share your thoughts. Teach them to question what they see and encourage them to speak to their friends about these issues as well.”

Need some help? Check out our post on What parents can do to combat sexualization or these helpful tips from the Canadian Pediatrics Society on how to limit screen time.

Consider gender stereotypes when selecting books, toys and clothes.

They may seem harmless, but books and toys are instruments that help socialize our children. Providing your kids with a wide range of books and toys teaches them that the sky’s the limit when it comes to their potential. 

How do you teach your kids about gender equality? Post your comments below or join the conversation on our Facebook page!