Newswise — Each holiday season, gift-giving traditions offer annual opportunities for adult caregivers to consider their children’s developing interests and provide toys that support healthy play. But gender stereotypes related to children’s toys may limit what ends up on holiday gift lists in ways that aren’t necessarily in children’s best interests. 

University of California, Santa Cruz Distinguished Professor of Psychology Campbell Leaper’s prior research has identified the causes of popular beliefs around which toys are considered “for boys” or “for girls” and the developmental consequences that can result when children’s play is limited along those lines. Playing with a variety of toys helps children develop a wider range of cognitive and social skills, and Leaper says the holidays are a good opportunity to introduce new types of toys, including those that challenge stereotypes.

Here are a few of Leaper’s holiday gift-giving tips for parents and other caregivers who want to support children’s play beyond the bounds of gender stereotypes:

  • Start with a child’s wish list: Holiday wish lists are a chance to talk with kids about their interests and perhaps broaden their ideas about what types of toys could support those interests, beyond the most gender-stereotypical options. 
  • Avoid pink and blue, when possible: Decades of marketing efforts have color-coded toys by gender using these colors. Children as young as 2 or 3 begin to form stereotypes around this, which can steer them away from toys they might otherwise have enjoyed. 
  • Consider the child’s age: Introducing a wide variety of toys is easiest during the toddler years, before children are likely to hold fully-formed gender-stereotyped beliefs about which toys are considered desirable for girls versus boys. 
  • Gently expand comfort zones: For older children, offer neutral to moderately counter-stereotypical toys. This avoids threatening their existing internalized gender-stereotypes while still giving kids a chance to practice new types of skills. You can also offer to play with your child to help them get comfortable with new toys.
  • Offer options: Holidays are an ideal time to introduce a new type of toy, because kids may receive multiple gifts at once. Providing a counter-stereotypical toy in addition to, rather than in place of, other types of toys gives kids the benefit of options.

For more information on topics related to these recommendations, please see the recent Q&A with Professor Leaper in the UC Santa Cruz Newscenter, or contact Public Information Officer Allison Arteaga Soergel to request an interview.