“Boys should be free to wear tutus, tiaras and heels, and girls to wear tool belts and superhero capes, the Church of England said in new guidance issued to schools and nurseries”. (The Guardian, Sept 17)
This article popped up in my news feed the other day and I had to give it a read. Although I see this as obvious, and was surprised that schools and nurseries needed guidance on allowing this, I know not everyone agrees. I have my own experiences of children enjoying playing differently than gender stereotypes dictate, and I would love to share them with you as this week is Anti-bullying week.
About 15 years ago(God I know how to make myself feel old!) whilst I was working full time in a nursery ,I had the pleasure of looking after a little boy from about 2years old up until he left for big school. For this I will call him Bob. Bob came to nursery every day, and he always made a bee line for our dressing up box. Unlike his peers, he wouldn’t choose to be a fireman, Spider-Man or a cowboy. He always chose a princess dress, or a bridesmaid dress and clippy heels. You could see in his face when he was clippy clopping around, playing his roleplay games, the satisfaction he had, and how happy it made him. Most importantly of all though, he was comfortable doing this.
As professionals we knew that our attitude reflected as a role model to all the other children around Bob, and as we made it a normal part of our nursery life, Bob was completely relaxed and supported, by both staff and children. We normalised it and even though other boys could have joined in, they didn’t. Just Bob. The children, as young as they were didn’t laugh or snigger, nor did they make fun of Bob, and I put this down to the positive attitudes of all the staff. I am very proud to have been a part of such a warm and loving nursery team.
Bob’s mum was fine, shrugged it off when we told her, and she accepted that was just how Bob liked to play.
Dad, however, was a different story. He went mad at first. He told poor Bob off, telling him he had better not catch him wearing dresses, and he also told us off for letting him dress this way. We explained our policies- that every child can express themselves as they wish. We also explained that as he was so little, he didn’t have the same conception of gender roles as adults. We all have that preconceived idea of what a man and woman is, how they should act, look. I love the freedom of thinking that children don’t have this – their world is through new, unprejudiced eyes.
Bob was experimenting, expressing himself, finding out who he is, what he likes and doesn’t. Maybe he liked the noise of the high heels on the wooden floor, the swishy feel of the dress or the silky satin. Perhaps he liked playing mum or teachers, or maybe he was just simply wearing the dress.
Dad wouldn’t listen – his mind was set, and I kind of understood a little of what he was feeling as a parent. We were placed in an uncomfortable position.
But our duty of care was to Bob, and to nurture him and help him to be a happy, confident child. So we decided we had to allow Bob the freedom to express himself as he wished. It seemed more important than ever if he wasn’t allowed to dress up at home. We just made sure dad didn’t see, and that he was in his own clothes at home time!
Years later I was briefly a childminder, and I cared for a few children of different ages in my home. I had one boy who came to me after school, lets call him Fred, and he too made straight for our dressing up box.
It was at the time of the huge “Frozen” craze. My three girls also loved the film, so we had all the merchandise, Anna and Elsa dresses, the DVD, CD, toys, allsorts!
Fred loved all things Frozen and his favourite was Elsa. He would wear the dress and sing his heart out to all the songs. I always made sure I had the CD at the ready!. At first my own children laughed, but I just again normalised it, I told him how good he looked at sounded, and I pointed out to the girls that they wore trousers and dressed up as cowboys, so what’s the difference?
Fred’s parents were amazing, completely accepting of everything that Fred did and was. I see him now at school, wearing his pink Shopkins rucksack and I admire him so much. It takes courage to be who he is at school. I don’t think I would have been that brave. He is supported and helped along by his wonderful open minded parents – such a contrast to Bob’s dad.
Children need the freedom to explore what it is to be themselves, and who they are, and as adults we need to be open minded enough to allow this freedom.
Our accepting behaviour can only be a positive role model to their peers, and would have a knock on effect in the future on bullying, mental health issues, depression, self harming and suicide.
I will finish off with a quote from the original article. It rings so true with my experiences and if we are going to change attitudes and stop bullying, its well worth bearing in mind.
“Children should be afforded freedom from the expectation of permanence. They are in a “trying-on” stage of life, and not yet adult and so no labels need to be fixed”. (The Guardian Sept17)