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Gender Differences In Play

The literature indicates that same-gender children prefer to play with each other during their toddler years. When play interactions between parents and children are studied, differences in styles emerge. Mother-child relationships revolve around social interactions; mothers are generally more responsive and facilitative, especially if there is a secure mother-child relationship. Father-child relationships appear to be at a higher level of play particularly when children are securely attached to their fathers (Kazura 2000).

In an interesting study examining the content and structure of children's play narratives, Kai von Klitzing and colleagues (2000) used a sample of 652 same-sex twins whose parents completed a Child Behavior Checklist when their children were aged five and seven years. Teachers also completed a report when the children were seven years old. Girls told more narratives with less aggression than boys. Aggressive themes, however, were related to behavior problems, and this correlation held for girls but not boys. Gender of the child as well as content and coherence of the story may be useful in identifying children who may be at risk for behavior problems.

Advertisers know that there are differences between boys and girls and the attitudes toward toys. This was borne out in a study of play themes of preschoolers by Dorothy Singer and Jerome Singer (1981). Adventure themes, fantasy characters, superheroes, and spacemen were the favored pretend play of boys. Girls indicated a clear preference for family pretend roles (mother, father, baby), playing "house," and dress-up clothes.

Children as young as eighteen months have shown preference for sex-stereotyped choices (Caldera, Huston, and O'Brien 1989), and as they get older, this preference for same-sex-typed toys continues (Eisenberg, Tryon, and Cameron 1984).

Rena Repetti (1984) found that children aged five and one-half to seven and one-half who chose more traditionally sex-linked toys were more likely to be those whose parents responded to gender-role questionnaires in a traditional way. The labeling of sex-typed toys was significantly related to a child's tendency to stereotype occupations. In an earlier study, Brian Sutton-Smith (1968) asked kindergartners to give alternative uses for male- and female-sex typed toys. The children were familiar with these toys, but their play experiences with them were different. If the toy was same-sex, the child ascribed more unique responses to the toy. It appears that toys manufactured for girls tend to be of a more passive nature—dolls, toy stoves, tea sets, carriages—whereas boys receive the cars, trucks, rocket ships, boats, mechanical sets, miniature tools, and toy weapons.

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