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“Girls can’t play


You want to challenge your 7-year-old’s ideas on gender

Sad Girl

Expert Response #1

Discuss differences

We all have bodies that are designed to run and jump and play, no matter if that person is a girl or boy. Let’s talk about why you see a difference between boys and girls

[Show examples of all genders participating in sports]

Expert Response #2

Wonder why

If there is a reason  you want to play by yourself/selves, that is fine, but “being a girl” isn’t an OK reason.


Can you explain to me why you need to play alone? If not, then you can play together or you can play something else

Jo Langford, therapist, author, sex and tech educator & founder of Be Heroes

Expert Response #3

Suggest options

Hmmm, I wonder where you got that idea from? Actually girls and boys can play any sport and I know you like cricket and playing football and I’m happy your friend enjoys these games too. You know, if you chose to play netball or do ballet that would be fine too. Some of the best footballers hone their foot skills and build muscle by doing ballet…

Whatever you say next, keep these things in mind…

  • Emphasise empathy – the ability to imagine other people’s emotions (as memorably illustrated in the 3-minute cartoon Brené Brown On Empathy). Ask your child how hearing that “girls can’t play” would make a girl feel and if they’ve ever experienced that feeling themselves. And make the point that this isn’t an attitude or behaviour you agree with

  • An excluding-others approach can be age-and-stage appropriate (and socially conditioned). Take heart from Amy Lang of Birds & Bees & Kids, who explains: “Kids at this age are separating into gender-specific groups. This is actually a developmentally typical thing for boys to say and to want. It doesn’t mean they are sexist – that’s not what’s going on. It’s more like it’s tribalist”

  • By questioning gender stereotyping – what makes someone think another gender shouldn’t be included or can’t do something? – you’re joining the ranks of Harry Styles gracing a Vogue cover in a ballgown, boys wearing skirts and nail polish to school and heroic male characters becoming as fragile as females in Gender-Swapped Fairy Tales. The title of Elise Gravel’s illustrations ebook (great for under-7s) – Artsy Boys And Smelly Girls – says it all about gender-stereotype role reversal


More help with gender stereotyping questions…

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ZERO TOLERANGE  |  Anyone can play

The Anyone Can Play project from Zero Tolerance explores the best ways to talk about gender stereotypes and their effects on children. Includes the Talking Gender factsheet series, posters and social-media links  Go to Anyone Can Play >


FAWCETT SOCIETY  |  Report on limiting potential

Research from gender-equality organisation the Fawcett Society underscores the idea that gender stereotypes limit children’s potential and that unequal treatment harms boys too. Check out their tips for ages 0 to 8  Go to the Unlimited Potential report >



If He Can See It, Will He Be It? is a report on how versions of masculinity and “real men” shown on TV affect boys aged 7-13. Also check out their 10 action-point toolkit for parents  Go to the Breaking Free From Boyhood Stereotypes toolkit >

More Outspoken advice on #GenderStereotypes

The full guide

8 year old.jpeg

Tips for this age

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Who does what onscreen

Remember: every child is different. Adjust these suggestions for the age and stage of your child. Children with special educational needs and disabilities, looked-after children and children who have experienced abuse may all need different support.


If you’re in doubt about your child’s emotional, physical or psychological development, please seek the advice of a professional

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