Rapunzel, Rapunzel…Please keep your hair short!

“Now you look like a boy.”

“So, I look like a boy because I have short hair?”

“Yep.”

My heart sank a little. I’d been chatting with two young sisters about differences for my uni assignment. In my years of working with young children, I’ve learned that conversations need to be organic and that you just have to follow their lead. And thus, how we landed on the subject of the differences between boys and girls, specifically hairstyles.

When I was nine I had, unfortunately, been exposed to head lice and my mum decided the best option was to chop off all my hair. My dad could not hide his disappointment. “You’re so beautiful with long hair. I guess it’ll grow it back” (Uhh. Thanks?) That Monday, I found myself being screamed at in the school bathroom, “Get out! You’re not supposed to be in here!” I was dressed in hand-me-downs, old jeans, and a t-shirt—a slight contrast from the bright pink dress the girl (yelling at me) wore and her long hair, which gently draped against her shoulders, would’ve made Rapunzel jealous. It was almost the complete opposite of the short, bowl-cut hairstyle my mum had given me. Before I could open my mouth to explain, a teacher—who I guess decided that I was a boy too—was dragging me out.

Fun Fact 1: Gender roles significantly impact educators’ image of children, as well as their pedagogies (teaching practices)—specifically educators of children in early childhood. Early childhood educators have biases toward gender-specific stereotypes and prefer when boys and girls engage in play and activities that match conventional gender roles. Simply put, teachers like to see boys doing boy things and girls doing girl things. Thus, when a child challenges these perceptions, more often than not, they become stigmatised as being deviant (a tomboy, a sissy-boy, or the weird girl that looks like a boy). You can only imagine the negative socio-emotional effect this can have on a young child.

Being mistaken for a boy happened a lot. It happened at airports, shopping malls…and even church! I had trouble making friends because nobody wanted to be friends with the weird girl that looked like a boy. When I finally grew my hair long and started wearing dresses, I started making friends. They were mainly girls because pop culture and society said so. I was a girl and I was to play with girls and do girl thing and boys play with boys and they do boy things. Many believe this is a fact backed by “clinical studies”… a little something called “gender segregation”. But as an adult, I question it…how much of this behaviour is determined by the culture and environment in which children are raised?

Fun Fact 2: During the mid 70’s American families started having fewer kids and retailers were unhappy with the fact that families were buying less and fewer goods and, in a stroke of brilliance, decided to market gendered items, and that’s why you have pink for girls and blue for boys…(and there you go, folks. The birth of gender segregation!) Don’t believe me? Check out Hidden Brain for the full episode transcript of the podcast called The Edge of Gender.

So, back to my question…has culture and environment impacted the way adults see children? Simple answer, yep. Ever since I could remember heteronormative perceptions of being have been deemed “the right way”. Girls behave this way, boys behave that way and girls wear pink and boys wear blue. Girls are the beautiful princesses—the damsels in distress—and boys are the brave princes that marry the damsels upon rescuing them from distress. These are the heteronormative narratives to which we have all become accustomed. You’re probably thinking, “there’s nothing wrong with this. It’s normal.” But is it normal because society decided long, long ago that the definition of femininity and masculinity are the gender roles that have been created by these narratives that we have all grown up hearing, reading and seeing?

So, what can we do?

Research new norms that provide a gender-neutral understandingone that facilitates an understanding of equality and provides children with positive role models and ideas that enable them to decide their own ways of being and more important, new norms that step away from the heteronormative narratives that reinforce stereotypes about gender.

It’s as simple as offering storybooks that challenge traditional values on gender roles—such as The Paper Bag Princess and My Princess Boyand creating safe spaces that encourage young children to engage with toys and activities that promote non-traditional play, which enables children to critically examine and explore ideas of gender. It also provides opportunities for young children to demonstrate that they are active participants in the process of their own gender.

And maybe, just maybe, it will also create a society that embraces the deviants—no matter their gender…or  length of their hair.

The reason I don’t care about the scribbles on my wall…(Thanks, Janet Lansbury!)

Don’t ever mistake any moment with your child for anything less than a learning experience…for both of you.

What do I mean?

Well, tonight Charlie said, “I draw A” during dinner and I looked up and she had used her fork to ‘draw’ on the walls (My fault, I was answering a text…during dinner). Of course, I was busy lecturing her on the appropriate use of the fork to look at the lovely lines she had scrawled on our white wall. But she insisted, “I draw A!” Exasperated. I took her fork away. I mean, she hasn’t even learned to identify ‘A’ from ‘B’, it’s also all ABC to her, even numbers. After a while, she acknowledged that “Forks are for eating, not drawing.” And but then she repeated again, “I draw A.” And I finally looked carefully at the wall… and lo and behold, there it was an upside down ‘A’! I felt terrible for not listening to her… and of course, I praised the upside down letter immediately upon realising, but then she repeated, “Forks are for eating…”  Sigh.

After the little stinker (Yep, I said it!)  went to bed, I came across the Janet Lansbury article below, and this quote resonated with me:

“…Kids draw to have experiences, tell stories and express ideas. Even when they scribble, they are often expressing energy, sound, or motion rather than just moving their arm along the page or making a primitive attempt at something more representative…”

I realised that Charlie had found a way to express that she had finally identified the letter ‘A’ on her own (and drew it!), but all I could do was focus on the negative—not to mention the fact that I completely underestimated her capacity to recognise the letter ‘A’ from ‘B’—rather than appreciate the learning that had occurred right in front of my eyes.

Next time, I’ll parent better, kid. I promise.

So, parents please read the article. It’s an eye-opener! And I implore you, observe and listen…your little one might just be expressing just how clever they are (even if it is upside down)!

“Be careful what you teach. It might interfere with what they are learning.” – Magda Gerber Parents have often asked me some variation of the question: “How do we strike the right balance between molding our children and trusting them to unfold?” In my view, “molding” should be reserved for ceramics projects and dental work. In…

via The Moments We Miss When We’re Busy Molding Our Kids — Janet Lansbury

What do fairies have to do with children’s emotional development?

Every day I marvel at my little one. I watch in awe as she explores her surroundings completely, unapologetically curious yet so innocent. I watch nervously, yet excitedly, as she teeters over the edge of the slide unafraid of any consequences that may occur if she falls. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of fear and the desire to provide as many opportunities for exploration. And then there are days, you know the days… the days that just seem to go on forever because it’s the day she decides to explore tantrums, anger, and ultimately, rebellion. Even though her little mind can’t define exactly what this action is she knows she likes it and she likes the reaction it elicits from her parents. So, what happens now? Don’t pull your hair out just yet.

 

Trigger warning: I’m about to use that annoying “Oh, it’s just a phase…they’ll grow out of it soon” reason.

 

Okay, so while it is a phase (and yes, they will grow out of it…just hang in there!), it’s important to understand that the tantrums, anger, aggression, and all the other less than appealing behaviour is the result of cognitive dissonance. Yep. Your little one’s developments (the ones that make you marvel in awe) are also the cause of their little bouts of insanity. New discoveries are a constant stimulus of emotions and unless children have learned to identify these feelings, they will not be able to control them. And here, ladies and gentlemen is the quote that inspired this whole blog to further explain my point:

 

“Fairies have to be one thing or the other, because being so small they unfortunately have room for one feeling only at a time.”

 

Is this not a perfect description of that little human you’re raising? (Good ol’ Jimmy Barrie knew what he was talking about!). Essentially, it’s our jobs as parents to help children identify the emotions they feel and provide guidance to help them solve problems and overcome the many frustrations they will encounter before your first coffee throughout the day. I firmly believe that playtime is the best time to learn. And what better toy to effectively help children to identify their emotions than a Mood Swing Puppet? (Yeaahhhh, I’m still working on a child-friendly name).

 

Step 1: Take some fabric, an old T-shirt will do! Trace a human (ish?) figure onto your fabric and cut two identical pieces and sew the sides together leaving the bottom open (I’m going to be honest: this one was done by a tailor…Ssshh!). If your little one is old enough, they can also do this part. Meanwhile, you can finish that cold coffee you were meant to drink earlier.

 

Step 2: Create the emotions by cutting a sad mouth and a happy mouth from coloured felt material and stick them on both sides of the puppet. Alternatively, you can just use a sharpie and draw the mouths directly onto the puppet. You can also draw eyes, but I’ve chosen to use googly eyes for that extra wow! Also, it’s fun for the little on to stick them onto the puppet (hooray for independence!) Drawing furrowed brows on your sad person to make them grumpy, just sayin’.

 

Step 3: If you want lovely locks of hair, cut coloured yarn and paste them onto your puppet’s head (So presh!).

 

Next time your child demonstrates less than desirable behaviour just remind yourself: they are yet to develop self-regulation skills that provide them with the emotional tools to manage their emotions. (Fun fact: these are the same emotional tools that keep you from pulling your hair out!) So, go forth…talk, explore, sing songs and play games about feelings using your Mood-Swing Puppet! (Yep, couldn’t think of a better name…suggestions welcome!).