Walking into a toy store these days, we are immediately directed to different sections according to gender. Gulf News asked Dr Valeria Risoli, clinical psychologist at Dubai Physiotherapy and Family Medicine Clinic whether such segregation further fuels stereotypes when children become adults. She explained: “I don’t think that it is the classification of toys upon gender itself that is damaging but the imposition of the same toy or the same category (gender related) of toys to children can be limiting for the cognitive, social, motor and emotional development of a child.”

From the day that a child is born, he or she is labelled according to gender and that is when the social rules of society come into play. Girls are meant to like the colour pink and play with dolls while boys are to like the colour blue and play with cars. However, according to Dr Risoli this is something that is deep-rooted in societies and has to do with the idea of appropriateness and social acceptance. Whether or not toys are divided according to gender, chances are that the child will still opt for a toy that is considered appropriate to his or her gender by simply having observed his or her parents and what they do. “Children observe their parents and naturally identify themselves with the same-sex parent: girls prefer toys that allow them to repeat what their mothers do (cleaning, dressing, cooking, making up) while boys will prefer trucks and tools that they might see in their father’s hands,” said Dr Risoli.

While there is no defined correlation between toys used in childhood and future decisions, allowing your child to cross-gender toys might actually benefit the development of your child in a sense that he or she will develop skills that would not have been possible with gender-specific toys. Dr Risoli said: “Letting boys play with small objects that are typical for girls will improve their fine motor skills. Similarly, dolls can help boys develop emotionally and they can learn to be more compassionate and caring in the future. As for girls, playing with toys for boys will improve their executive functioning development as they learn problem solving strategies.” It is not gender-specific toys that fuel stereotypes, it is rather the product of various factors such as the environment, parenting styles, genetic traits and the opportunities given that will play the deciding factor in terms of making career choices.

Dr Risoli stressed the importance to not induce any sense of inadequacy or anxiety in children by forbidding them to play with the opposite gender-related toy as this could lead the child to develop neurotic and anxious traits that could be reflected upon his or her adult life.