40

My aspiration is to give my daughter experiences of boys and girls toys.

My background is that I work as a software engineer and had experiences of LEGO, Meccano, programming and sci-fi movies. I don't want to hold that stuff back from my daughter.

She has decided at an early age (2) that she is a "girly girl" who likes pink, princesses, etc.

My question is:
I want to expose my 5-year-old daughter to boys and girls toys equally, but she just turned her nose up at Star Wars. What do I do?

(Perhaps - what is the bounds of her and my responsibility on this issue?)

  • 70
    You can offer any toys, but shouldn't force her to play with a particular type. If she doesn't like Star Wars, it doesn't mean she won't like Legos. (Perhaps Lego Friends or Lego Elves, but still!) – Acire Apr 27 '15 at 12:58
  • 48
    Which episode? If episode 1, maybe you just have a really discerning little girl on your hands. If it was Empire, then I can't help you :) – Dancrumb Apr 27 '15 at 17:12
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    "...she just turned her nose up at Star Wars. What do I do?" Well, there's always adoption... – Adam Davis Apr 27 '15 at 20:06
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    Tell her she's not allowed to play with Star Wars or Legos. – user6589 Apr 28 '15 at 19:57
  • 45
    Perhaps these are not the toys she's looking for. – T. C. Apr 29 '15 at 7:56

12 Answers 12

82

Offer her more, different things. And if she likes pink, then just let her be pink!

I am sure you are not holding "boy"-things away from your daughter, but if she doesn't care or them, that's life and how your daughter is.

Certain LEGO play sets1 may still catch her attention (just find something pink).

But above all, keep in mind: While having girls, and later women, no longer restricted to their classical roles, that is still where at least some of them will be most happy. As long as you show her that there are other paths she may choose, and she just chooses differently, you are on the right path yourself!


1There are several current LEGO themes targeted at girls: Friends, Elves, and Disney Princess. There are also DUPLO sets (for younger children) in the Disney Princess theme. Lastly, there is a wide variety of "girl" sets, which have plenty of pink.

  • 9
    I might recommend Goldieblox once she's old enough. – David K Apr 27 '15 at 17:52
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    Different things - what about a few wires, a battery, a button, and a light. What girl would not be swayed by that! These come also in retail boxes in the form of science kits. 5YO is maybe a little borderline, but after all, right that moment they switch from duplo to lego ... – YoYo Apr 28 '15 at 16:37
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    Kids change as they age. Early on, they find it very hard not to absorb the most obvious cultural impressions. So girls = pink. But as long as you offer her alternatives, she may well grow out of this phase. Mine both did and now enjoy a mix of toys, games and activities without much regard for gender labelling. – Matt Thrower Apr 29 '15 at 11:49
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    no no no. Do not teach her that pink is for girls and all the other colours are for boys. – JamesRyan Apr 30 '15 at 16:19
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    Just for clarification: the kid likes pink, so I suggested something in pink to get her engaged in the kind of toy. Nothign to do with encouraging "girl = pink"... I never was pink myself (though I did like my pomies.. my favourite one was blue, though ^^) – Layna May 3 '15 at 8:52
63

Boys ≠ girls

When I had mine, one of the things I found really surprising (which with hindsight should have been obvious) is that girls and boys are not the same.

I had always assumed tabula rasa, but this doesn't appear to hold water.

My little girl will be happy for an hour playing imaginative games with talking ponies. When she gets together with friends they will stand around talking quietly about this and that. Sometimes they will try on dresses.

This is not to say that boys can't play like girls and girls like boys, it's just that for the most part they don't seem to want to.

I will always encourage my little girl to be tough and brave, which she is, but given the choice between a pink pony and an Arduino robot, she'll take the pony every time.

Also children ≠ other children

Also remember that regardless of gender, all children are different. My eldest son is not the least bit interested in electronics but loves chess. My middle son loves to cuddle and read, and loves taking laptops to pieces. My girl loves princesses and ponies, but also loves fighting and nerf.

They all have preferences which are partially influenced by gender, but also seem to be mysteriously innate.

Adapt your offering to the market

There are ways to get your girl playing with boys toys, you just have to be clever about how you present them.

  • Girl lego - is actually rather cool. Yes it has horses and princesses, but it also teaches about modular construction. We might build a castle together.
  • Princess Leia - She has untapped force powers plus she's a princess (now we also have Rey).
  • Girl Scratch - you can build anything in scratch, even a pony dress up game.
  • Play apparatus - We have a bar in the hall that the kids swing on. We have Nerf wars. We go to the park. Present her with opportunities to develop physical and mental toughness.

Remember she is a unique individual and will like what she likes. You can't force her to like something, but you can make learning fun for her by framing it cleverly.

  • 4
    This "innateness" is an excellent point. It seems there is just something innately "girl" about ponies, just as there is something innately "boy" about dinosaurs. – Gabe Apr 27 '15 at 17:44
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    Ponies are cute, and dinosaurs are giant destruction-monsters. At least the cool ones are. Blowing stuff up, knocking stuff down or otherwise turning things into tiny-bits-of-things is definitely an innately male preoccupation. :p – neminem Apr 27 '15 at 22:30
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    Well, my daughter (5 yo., curly blonde, blue-eyed, cute as a button) is currently into all things dinosaur and flatly refuses clothes that are pink, sparkly, ruffeled, sequined or have flowers on them. Ponies are "bleach" and unicorns "a stupid myth". Brother (8yo.) is only prevented by peer pressure to wear pink t-shirts but is occasionally "brave" enough to wear pink socks. – Stephie Apr 28 '15 at 8:56
  • 5
    @jwg - Good point, 3 data points is not statistically significant. My kids have lots of friends, many of whom (though not all) exhibit similar behaviours. This is anecdotal evidence though and should rightly be treated with caution. As I mention in my answer, all kids are different. The key thing I think is to watch your child closely and try to relate to him or her as an individual. – superluminary Apr 28 '15 at 9:52
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    May I point out that Star Wars is now owned by Disney. So, not only is Princess Leia a princess, technically she's a Disney Princess! ;) – Adeptus Apr 29 '15 at 6:41
50

There is a difference between exposing children to the various things life has to offer and forcing your choices on them.

There is nothing wrong with pink princesses or other "girly girl" things. So, show her what's available but respect her preferences.

edit Just noticed this part of the question:

what is the bounds of her and my responsibility on this issue?

Your responsibility is to show her the possibilities. Her responsibility is to decide what her preferences are. If she doesn't like Star Wars, that's really no big deal - believe it or not but a lot of people don't like Star Wars.

One of my kids likes playing the guitar, another likes skateboarding. One likes steak, another prefers chicken. One loves broccoli, another won't even look it without pretending to gag.

That's just life. For whatever reason we have our own preferences. Sometimes they change daily, sometimes we keep them for our entire life. The tldr is simply don't force things on your child. Show them what's available and let them explore.

  • 2
    While short answers can be fine, this one seems more like a comment. Could you please clarify or add details? For instance, when you say "show her what's available", how does that increase engagement? The OP is having trouble with just showing his daughter items, and thus his question. So should he just put some toys down in front of her, or play with them himself to show her how, or take her down the "boys" section of the store for toys? – user11394 Apr 28 '15 at 22:29
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    @CreationEdge: I don't think this is sub-par for an answer. In fact it's exactly what I would have written myself. The OP wants to expose his kid to all kinds of toys. He did that, and his kid (at this point of time) likes some and dislikes others. That's fine, end of story. – DevSolar Apr 29 '15 at 8:34
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    CreationEdge: Obviously there are a wide variety of ways to expose people to various topics. For example, if you want to expose someone to rock climbing you might take them for a 1 hour intro course. Whereas exposing someone to star wars is as easy as picking one of those movies to watch. Quite frankly, you've missed my entire point. To be blunt: I'm not giving the OP a plan. I'm telling the OP that s/he should stop trying to force the child to like something and instead to back off. There's nothing wrong with a girl liking traditional girl things. – NotMe Apr 29 '15 at 19:55
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    @CreationEdge: The expressed (!) desire of the child is to be, quote, "a 'girly girl' who likes pink, princesses, etc.". The father did the right thing and exposed her to alternatives, which she expressed to have no interest in. And NotMe and myself seem to agree that there's absolutely nothing wrong in that. Take my wife -- raised in a distinctively feminist environment, at one point in her life she chose to become a housewife and mother. My mother in law might not be completely OK with that, but that was her decision, and it isn't "wrong" just because it falls within stereotypes. – DevSolar Apr 30 '15 at 7:03
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    @creationEdge Considering that almost every society in the history of the world other than late-20th to early 21-st century America and Western Europe has considered the idea of a "girly girl" (as you and the OP put it) natural and desirable, your comment is totally western-civ-centric and chauvinistic. On what grounds do you say that contemporary western culture is "right" about this while Asian, Middle Eastern, and African culture are "wrong", and most past civilizations are "wrong"? It's also quite a stretch to say that something is an artificial construct of culture when ... – Jay May 3 '15 at 3:12
19

Play with her. Play by yourself. Model the behavior you expect from her. Give her access to other role models that exhibit the behavior you want her to experience.

She may never choose to play with them, but with new toys she may be confused or unfamiliar with them and not understand what her relationship and behavior towards them should be.

So sit down and play with them yourself. Watch the movies with her (if you feel they are appropriate) so she understands where they come from and what they are.

Then play with her with them. Incorporate them into her play style. If she's having a tea party, include the tie-fighter as one of her guests.

Keep in mind, however, that she's at a very young age and star wars toys are not geared for her age group. It's not necessarily an issue of gender, so much as an issue of development, fine motor skills, reasoning, and hand-eye coordination. There are many fine details in these models that make them interesting beyond the simple color palette. But for a young child these details may not be meaningful, and thus a more inviting color palette is needed for them to be attracted to the toys.

But above all, children at this age tend to mimic what they see, so if you have a desire that she exhibit certain behavior, you need to model it yourself.

  • 7
    +1 for mentioning that she may be too young to be interested in star wars. – Sumyrda Apr 27 '15 at 17:10
15

I have a really simple trick for this, and I've used it to encourage "outside toys" vs "inside toys", "quiet toys" vs "loud toys", etc - even if my child really wanted only one type (and I wanted them to have the other for some reason). This also works for "stereotypical type A" vs "stereotypical type B", and it seems to work equally well with boys and girls.

Take a trip to the toy store/section with your child, letting them know they will get to pick out a toy! Depending on age, I usually add a price range restriction (under $10, under $20, etc).

Expect to spend a while and have fun, and encourage them to look at the variety of options. When they make a pick of the same class they usually do that I don't want them to limit themselves to (what a surprise, more Pokemon cards...), I say, "Well, you have a lot of toys like that one, don't you? Do you want a different type of toy?" If they are insistent (mine often are, as I think hardheadedness is genetically heritable...must get it from my father, right?), I pull out my secret weapon - "OK, I'll make you a deal - I'll buy you that toy, AND I'll buy you a second toy of a different kind!"

Then you take them to the different isle/section, and point them to the variety and let them pick from that set of toys. Now your child won't feel the need to cling to the one thing they want, sense they get to have it and they get a 'free' bonus toy for trying something new. Since they get to pick it out themselves, they'll be more likely to play with it.

I've used this technique successfully to get toys for a trip, toys for quiet time, toys that aren't guns/swords, toys that aren't more Pokemon cards, outside toys, books, you name it. The kid gets what they want, what they expected, and they get something extra - which is what you wanted the whole time.

You can then leave them to their own devices, and/or play with them and help them see new and different ways to have fun with all kinds of toys.

Bottom line, whatever you do, don't stress out over it - playing with barbies doesn't rob people of their ability to program or do math, nor does loving Star Wars give them the ability to be a software engineer (I have to remind myself this a lot, only with Monty Python). They are toys, they are supposed to be fun and help kids expand and improve their understanding of the world - and that can happen regardless of whether or not the toy is pink or camouflaged.

If your daughter ends up really loving one color, you might see if she'd like to paint other toys that color with you. If your child just loves yellow and there are no canary-yellow-sweater-wearing Storm Troopers, then we both know what you have to do.

Take a deep breath, and have a good time enjoying whatever toy your child picks. They'll likely start enjoying music you find god-awful soon enough, so enjoy these times while you can!

  • 1
    This is a wonderful solution to introducing new toys into the environment. It also adds a sense of ownership for the child. The other toy is theirs, not the parent's or a sibling's. If you can afford it, it sounds great. I think I need to use this on myself, as neither my wife or I are interested in certain types of toys, but I want my son exposed to them. – user11394 Apr 30 '15 at 9:19
  • The only problem is that you essentially reward the wrong choice, so the next time they know to pick something they already have. Why not simply require the toy to be of a different kind than what you already have? – hkBst Oct 2 '16 at 6:47
11

Remember her interests may change.

When I was very young (3~6) I bought into pink, white, purple color schemes, kittens, barbie and girly things because it was what was fed to me. My favorite colors started to change around 7~9 to blue and green which have remained pretty consistent. Also around that time I watched jurassic park, so I ditched most girly stuff for dinosaurs, monsters, and general videogame stuff. Though I watched it, Star Wars isn't really my favorite franchise. As above people suggested, she may have interests that cross over in some place and not others. It's good that you don't say "no" to crossover. Eventually she will start developing her own interests, letting her know it's okay to like a variety versus what is marketed to her is a good thing.

  • Interesting answer from personal experience. My 4yo daughter is currently only interested in copying her mum (which is no bad thing because my wife is lovely). She will sit and watch her very closely. Perhaps when she is older she will go down another path. – superluminary Apr 28 '15 at 5:56
  • I think kids will emulate those around them, they may choose who they follow though. I did follow my mom a lot because she was stay-at-home, but I found my brother and dad did more interesting things to watch. I looked up to my brother and dad, and thought my mom and sister were sort of nonsense ( and their insistence on grooming me not fun ). I was pretty either-or, but by spending a lot of time with my brother I learned computers, which led to me majoring in programming along with art – Kiwizoom Apr 28 '15 at 14:57
11

You can help your daughter remove artificial limits without denying essential parts of her nature. Much more important than what you give her or tell her is what you do with her.

One of the best gifts I ever gave my younger daughter (also a girly-girl 5 year-old) was a tinker kit. Not only for what she makes alone using it, but for the opportunities it opens up. She sees me using my screwdriver, excitedly leaves the room and reappears with her own screwdriver, asking to help. Her tinker kit is a clear, ongoing signal to her that I value her participation in those sorts of activities with me.

You can't create interests out of thin air. Look for things she already shows an interest in, and try to parlay that into a STEM activity. For example, my daughter showed interest in a voice modulator she saw on a TV show, so I bought a kit for us to build together. She has been showing interest in fashion design, so I asked if she might be interested in doing some e-textiles with me. Doing things together is key if you want to expand interests.

Does she like Star Wars? Not really, but of all the "boy things" I've introduced her to, that's one of the least important in terms of her ongoing success. I want her to know that I value her preferences and opinions, and if she chooses the girly-girl things in life, that's fine. I just also want her to have enough exposure that it's truly a choice, and not because she feels she was never suited for anything else, or is only choosing it to meet her parents' expectations.

  • I finally got around to reading this. +1 for "remove artificial limits" and inclusion. It gives clear examples and steps to counteract cultural pressures. – user11394 Apr 30 '15 at 1:07
3

Try something different. Look at what she likes and try to add engineering. She likes to decorate? Build complex decorations with her. She likes to play dolls? Build a dollhouse with her.

I think it's hard to change the subject they are interested in. It all depends on their environment, TV, books, personal likes and friends.

  • 1
    The dollhouse building idea is quite excellent. It reminds me of the Friends episode where Phoebe makes her own dollhouse. – user11394 Apr 30 '15 at 9:09
3

You let her play in the creative ways that make her happy.

On a side note, if you ever handed toddlers an 18" piece of foam, like a piece of a floating thing they use in a pool, the girls will immediately coddle it, like a baby, and the boys will either hit each other with them, or use them as a projectile. This is their nature. It's worse to force change than to provide choice.

What I recommend is to read to her, offering a variety of books, and let her choose what she likes. The correlation of future success in school and early access to books is very high, use that to your advantage.

Encourage her to take on challenges, and from your own words, don't let her think she can't do something "because she's a girl." When my daughter was 6, I gave her the opportunity to change a light dimmer. I used words and pointed, but she did all the work, understood the breaker panel in basement, etc. I didn't talk about it in terms of gender, only that most adults wouldn't attempt this, and an electrician would charge $150. (So she asked me for $50, and I handed it over. Right into her college account at her request, smart kid).

The media is your biggest enemy. Here are two toys, I had seen this in a Sunday paper ad.

enter image description here

Fashion for girls, race cars for boys. Advertising, TV ad placement, and movie themes are all going to work against your goals. You can't hide this from your kids. No more than you can hide all the race and political issues that are otherwise tangent to this discussion. They'll see the news and be influenced by friends and friends' parents. You can only set the example in your own house.

  • To the downvoter. Much appreciated. Not sure what you disagreed with, but's it's always great to get voted down, with no comment. Don't let the kid choose? The media is good? What exactly is your view on this? – JoeTaxpayer May 3 '15 at 0:59
  • You unfortunately preface the answer with "Nothing" as the solution. On this question in particular, that has not been a popular response. After you say to do nothing, you then suggest a lot of somethings. It doesn't make sense. Remove that first, single-sentence word and your answer becomes great. So, I'll do it, and if you don't like it you can roll it back. – user11394 May 3 '15 at 5:01
  • Much appreciated. Your explanation made perfect sense and I'll be careful of my wording in the future. – JoeTaxpayer May 3 '15 at 12:53
2

Children choose their toys according to what they want to learn. This is genuinely correlated with gender via factors that include social influences but also very critically the child's genes and the mother's hormone levels during pregnancy. Some children (primarily boys) prefer to play out violent conflicts. Others (primarily girls) prefer to play out harmonious situations. Chimpanzee boys use sticks as weapons, chimpanzee girls use sticks as dolls. In the same way, children can play with mummy tank and daddy tank and their large family of Star Wars characters or wage war between the Barbie clan and an innocent looking princess wielding lightning bolts.

Though not allowing certain types of toys makes sense if they were designed to discourage imaginative play, enforcing the use of a particular kind usually does not. It's important to distinguish and understand the reasons for such rejection and take them seriously:

  • Child has been conditioned to operate 'toys' that require no imagination; has lost the ability to play properly.
  • Peer (or parent) pressure ("boys/girls don't play with ...")
  • Toy is not the best tool for the job (learning about a specific aspect of life the child is currently interested in).
  • 2
    Can you add citations for your claims? Specifically, the genetic and hormone factors and chimpanzee stick playing themes. As an aside: Supposing the chimp stick claims are accurate, I don't think they're a good example. Chimps are highly patriarchal, and will have those gender roles constantly reinforced. We're supposed to do better than the animals. – user11394 Apr 30 '15 at 9:14
  • @CreationEdge But if "we're supposed to do better than animals", that must mean that you think that we should resist natural genetic predispositions to do something different. That is, gender roles are natural, and egalitarianism is an artificial construct created by human society. – Jay May 4 '15 at 13:17
  • @Jay No, sorry. You made a big jump in logic there. Just because animals do it, doesn't mean it's genetic. In fact, some research suggests the reasons chimps are patriarchal and their relatives the bonobos are matriarchal is because of local ecology and diet, which is a purely external influence. If you want to counter my claims about artificial constructs it'll likely take a longer, more detailed reply than can be done in comments. Perhaps chat would be better? – user11394 May 4 '15 at 13:35
1

I have to echo LRO's answer:

Absolutely nothing whatsoever

Or rather, just don't worry about it. By not worrying about boy vs. girls toys, you'll help shape her opinion that there isn't any such things. Toys are toys.

Now, she may simply prefer toys that we've traditionally labeled as 'girl' toys, but that's OK. It doesn't mean you can't keep introducing her to other options. Just don't feel bad when she's not into the same things you were maybe in to.

As for Star Wars, perhaps she's just not into Star Wars. I have 2 boys and it's not their thing, either.

(As an aside, I think McDonalds needs to fix this with their happy meals. They always ask "boy or girl" making this giant assumption that there's this line between boy and girl toys.)

  • By not worrying about it you let the cultural forces take over, which are heavily biased and push even young children into fitting within artificial gender roles. Inactivity and passivity are not solutions to overcoming the pervasive problem of gender inequality. You have to actively teach and explain to your child that toys are toys. – user11394 Apr 30 '15 at 9:05
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    @CreationEdge There's a huge difference between 'not worrying' and 'passivity'. Actively expose your children to all, but don't worry one way or the other. Kids will be exposed to cultural forces regardless. Insisting that there are boy vs. girl toys will only emphasize that. You don't need to teach a child which toys to play with. They will choose themselves without any teaching on your part. Actively insisting a boy to play with a doll or a girl to play with a dump truck would be what will emphasize those cultural biases. – DA01 Apr 30 '15 at 15:39
  • I'm not saying you need to teach that there are boy toys. That would actively defeat the intent of trying to eliminate the bias by introducing it. I said you need to teach your children that toys are toys, which likely means at some point you'll need to explicitly tell your child that there are not boy toys and girl toys, despite what it looks like. – user11394 Apr 30 '15 at 16:43
  • @CreationEdge I'd argue that what looks like boy vs. girls toys is purely an adult concept. Kids don't care. We mostly agree, we're just coming at it from slightly different perspectives. – DA01 Apr 30 '15 at 18:06
  • That's what I've been saying in other comments on other answers. Here's part of one that I said: "But a "girly girl" is a purely artificial construct of our gender-biased society. 5 years old is old enough to have had those stereotypes reinforced into the child's mind, and overcoming them isn't a passive activity." So, I do think that, by 5 years old, kids do care, because they're old enough to have been influenced by those "adult concepts". – user11394 Apr 30 '15 at 18:10
1

Hmm, if you said you offered your daughter both boys' toys and girls' toys and let her choose, then I'd say, Okay, you are trying to be careful not to force gender stereotypes on her.

But when you express concern that she rejected the boys' toys and ask what to do about this, it sounds to me like you are saying that the issue is not that you want to be careful not to force old-fashioned gender stereotypes on her, but rather that you want to force feminist ideas about gender roles on her. If she wants to be traditionally feminine, why is this a problem that you have to fix? Do you think that girls are inherently inferior to boys and that if a girl wants to have a meaningful life, she must act like a boy? If not, what's the problem?

Let's also bear in mind that we're talking about a 5 year old. I would be hesitant to make any predictions about what life choices she will make at 30 based on what toys she prefers at 5. When my oldest daughter was 5, her favorite toys were Barbie and My Little Pony. Today she's a software developer. So don't despair!

  • I think the concern is that he doesn't know how to get his daughter to attempt playing with other types of toys. I don't think the concern is that that she doesn't like Star Wars toys. The type of toy is incidental. Do you have guidance on how to get a child to use a new "type" of toy they're not accustomed to? Think of it like this: A child turning their nose up at a new type of food, without ever actually tasting it. How would you get that child to actually eat the food, so they could make a real comparative choice? – user11394 May 3 '15 at 5:12
  • 1
    Not sure what you mean by "I don't think the concern is that she doesn't like Star Wars toys". The poster clearly said that he/she wants his daughter to play with "boys' toys". Maybe not specifically Star Wars, but toys that are generally popular with boys. The issue is not that she plays with Barbies but not ponies. In any case, I think the first question is not, "How do we encourage/entice/force/whatever the child to play with these toys", but "Should this be a goal?" I think a key issue in child-rearing is teaching the child to grow up to be a strong and independent person who can ... – Jay May 4 '15 at 13:27
  • ... make her own decisions. There are many areas where for reasons of safety, etc, you just can't let a child make her own decisions, like when my children were 5 I didn't allow them to decide for themselves whether to play in the middle of a busy highway or whether to go to the dentist. But deciding whether she wants to play with a Barbie doll or a Star Wars X-wing fighter seems to me exactly the sort of decision that a child can make on her own without danger. Surely even for a 5 year old, there must be SOME areas of her life where we can allow her to make her own decisions. – Jay May 4 '15 at 13:30
  • I think I was pretty clear with my first comment about what I meant, and then you go on to summarize it. For the other part, I don't see why it wouldn't be a goal. I wouldn't just want my child to make decisions, which is a facile task, but to make good, informed decisions which is a useful life skill. Also, comparing "encouraging/enticing" with "force/whatever" is a bit pigheaded. I don't think anyone here is recommending forcing anything on the child (such as removing all the child's preferred toys and replacing them with other toys). – user11394 May 4 '15 at 13:59

protected by Acire Apr 27 '15 at 21:51

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