Parental Influences on Gender

In Early Childhood

Although gender is a biologically driven force, environment plays a large part in how children view gender and grow into their own gender roles.

How Parents Influence Gender Identity

For the first few years of life, parents play a crucial role in their child's development. Their role varies from primary caregivers to reinforcers to role models, amongst others. Most early behaviors are learned and reinforced in the home.

Parents encourage gender roles by:

1. Dressing children in gender-specific clothes and colors

2. Providing gender-differentiated toys

3. Having different expectations of sons and daughters

4. Encouraging participation in sex-typed activities and chores

5. Reinforcing/Rewarding gender-stereotyped behavior

6. Acting as a model for gender-specific behaviors

(Witt, 1997)

Impact of Negative Parental Attitudes

Parental influence can often come in the form of subtle messages and cues that are not 100% conscious but are still internalized by young children. (Witt, 1997) This can lead to the development of a self-fulfilling prophecy in which children conform to their assigned roles. Early gender stereotyped messages can impact self-esteem, achievement, and even relationships later in life.

Healthy Gender Development: Androgyny

Androgyny can be defined as exhibiting a mixture of both positive feminine and masculine characteristics. Children in this category tend to have higher self-esteem and tend to be more adaptable. (Berk, 2010)

Ways Parent Can Encourage Healthy Development:

1. Limiting or sharing traditional gender roles

2. Avoid stereotypical language

3.Limit exposure to media portrayals of gender

4. Encouraging children outside of their comfort zones

5. Authoritative parenting


Berk, L. (2010). Emotional and Social Development in early Childhood. Development Through the Lifespan (5th ed., pp. 273-280). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Witt, S. D. (1997). Parental influence on children's socialization to gender roles. Adolescence, 32(126), 253-259.