A popular trend for stores, and moms, is gender specific toys. Do girls need pink Legos or puzzles made for them? Real moms and experts weigh in on whether we’re doing harm or good by gender stereotyping children’s toys. Before you start checking off that holiday gift list, read this.

Parents can't help but want to fill our babies' rooms with tiny folded onesies and (too) many toys. But which toys do we choose? Traditionally, girls have received dolls and stuffed animals in shades of pinks and purples and boys have been handed tools and trucks in blues and greens. Some parents are wondering how necessary, and helpful, these gender-specific toys really are. Real moms discuss their personal yays and nays behind trucks and Barbies.

Gender-specific toys: Nay

Many parents have moved beyond wanting our girls to only play house and our boys to only play ball. The most popular reason being that gender doesn't need to dictate play. Katie Hurley, LCSW, explains, "Play simply helps children make sense of and cope with the world around them. It's perfectly normal for children to try out many of these roles."

allParenting gender specific toys- Kathy Taylor

My philosophy is to observe and build on where my child's inherent interests are. Toys in themselves don't generate an interest that wasn't already sprouting.

This is the case for Kathy Taylor, the founder of Attagirl! the active woman's BFF. Taylor says, "My son is 8 and I don't select toys by gender. We make our selection first by his interest, then by fun factor and/or educational value, with gender playing little to no role. By this age you know what your kid likes. For Nolan, it's been architectural building blocks, all-things Egypt and Titanic for a while. But one year he was all about a tea set. And that's what we got him and it got a lot of post-Christmas action. When he was young, we started with "traditional" boy toys, like trucks. We only did this because he was just developing interests at this point and as new parents, we really had no idea. We simply used it as a starting point. Turns out, he doesn't like trucks or sports — both traditionally oriented toward boys. The only time gender really comes into play is in color selection. One year we got CitiBlocs. When faced with the color selection of blue/greens or orange/pinks, I got the blue because it was more boy-like. But he loved them so much, the next year I got him the pink set. My philosophy is to observe and build on where my child's inherent interests are. Toys in themselves don't generate an interest that wasn't already sprouting (e.g., buying a baseball glove for my son didn't move the dial on his indifference toward baseball)."

Gender-specific toys: Yay

But some moms aren't so sure. Margot Black, a public relations visionary, media maven and mother of one, is one of those moms. Black says, "I buy gender specific toys all the time and my kid loves them. I love watching our son deep in play (of course inspired by his new 'macho boy toy,' 'I'm a sword ninja,' 'I'm a superhero saving a princess' or 'I'm a fireman saving lives and buildings.') Gender-specific toys help guide little children toward social norms and adulthood."

allParenting gender specific toys- Margot Black

Gender specific toys help guide little children toward social norms and adulthood.

Black feels that parents who aren't fans of gender-specific toys are just paying lip-service to a politically correct, and popular, issue. She says, "You can try to be all PC and say 'I'm not going to buy anything gender specific' but that's only do-able if you live in a cave (without any media whatsoever) and never take your kid to a toy store. The second my son walks into a toy store, he moves right to all the 'little-boy-macho' toys (cars, trucks, superheroes) that are being marketed to him at his eye level since the day he was born. I don't mind buying them at all."

allParenting gender specific toys- Kathy O'Sullivan

In the case of the media's role in the cycle between parents, children and toys, feminist writer and mother of three K.M. O'Sullivan, agrees with Black. She says, "There is no such thing as a 'gender-specific toy,' only gender-specific marketing within a culture that has, with very few exceptions, been conditioned to believe and continues to perpetuate the idea that girls will be girls and boys will be boys. Breaking with that deeply rooted convention is a nearly impossible task."

Remember: The child over the gender

Deep down, many of us need permission to go against the way we imagined we'd parent. Our boys will play with dolls and our girls will build with blocks is what we said, but when it comes to having real kids with real toys, we're not in as much control as we thought we'd be.

Children receive gifts and are drawn to what they see their friends playing with, what's marketed on television and what's on those pink and blue shelves at the store. So what's a gift-buying mother to do?

Think.

I will follow his lead this holiday season because limiting him to gender neutral toys out of some sense of feminist obligation would tell him I do not accept who he is, and that is not the lesson I want him to learn.

O'Sullivan explains, "As a feminist mother hoping to raise her boys with some sense of gender role neutrality, I have to admit the pink and blue battle is not one I can win. The best I can do is weave gender positive language into my child's internal dialogue so they remember what they like is not up to someone else to define. My 5-year-old son likes building blocks, pirate swords, pink ponies and super heroes. I will follow his lead this holiday season because limiting him to gender neutral toys out of some sense of feminist obligation would tell him I do not accept who he is, and that is not the lesson I want him to learn."

The play debate comes down to all (toy) choices being on the table. Once the choices are there, we can breathe deep, let go, follow our children's lead and, simply, let them play.

allParenting gender specific toys- Sarah Buttenwieser

Once I understood that providing access to all toys was what mattered to me, I surely bought things my kids loved and wanted.

This is exactly what Sarah Buttenwieser, writer and mother to four living in Western Massachusetts, did. She explains, "When my daughter was born, the fourth child, after three boys, I was happily surprised to find we already had every toy we could want. That's to say, I really equipped our playroom with puzzles, books, train tracks, animals, a dollhouse and baby dolls. All the categories of toys were there, the quote 'boys' toys' and the quote 'girls' toys.' I'd been so purposeful and so worried with the first child to be non-stereotypic. I will admit the dolls have been played with much more by the girl than the boys combined. Once I understood that providing access to all toys was what mattered to me, I surely bought things my kids loved and wanted. At one time, that meant we could have opened a professional garage for a fleet of construction trucks."

This seems to be the key with the gender-specific toys decision. Be mindful of what you purchase, offer a variety of choices, and then see what your child is drawn to. And then, let go. The play decision is ultimately theirs.

Share with us! Let's keep (all) the toys on the table! Look around your play room — is it exclusively pink or blue? How do you feel about that?

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