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Do girls and boys really need different toys especially when they are very young? I am speculating part of reason why girls tend to play with Barbie dolls and boys tend to play with transformers is:

  • Parents make decisions for them.

Would girls play with Lego at all?

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    I am female, never had a single Barbie (though I had toy-ponies), never wanted one, loved my cars and legos. – Layna Aug 22 '17 at 5:26
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    Can you try to elaborate on what you mean with "need"? Is it: "absolutely must have", "should have in order to thrive", "would help them develop to their full potential", etc? As far as I'm concerned, no kid "needs" toys like Barbies or Legos, they can well do without them. I myself never had a Barbie or Lego. Only had 2 small dolls, 1 truck, and many animal toys, and I never felt I missed out on anything. I think that it actually pushed me to be more creative in order not to get bored. – iulia Aug 22 '17 at 7:36
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    Wait, Legos are a boy's toy? I played with them endlessly as a kid, and my niece loves them. That one seems pretty gender neutral to me (though some sets are definitely geared towards a specific gender). – Kat Aug 23 '17 at 1:55
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    these days in time you can let your little boy wear a dress to school and everyone will think you're the most cutting edge parent in school – I wrestled a bear once. Aug 24 '17 at 3:38
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    @Kat While I worked at LEGO (tm), they drilled it into our heads that Lego IS indeed for girls too. The only reason that they'd do that is if it wasn't apparent on the surface.. – tuskiomi Sep 13 '17 at 23:15
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Let the child decide. Offer both and see what they like.

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    Sums it up perfectly. No matter how much research points in this or that direction, this suggestion is failsafe. – Pascal says Talk To Monica Aug 22 '17 at 13:33
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    +1 for this answer, and I just want to add that you should be careful about reading too much into what they do decide. My older son played with many different toys, but his favorites always had wheels. When his younger brother was born (they are 22 months apart), I bought my older son a baby doll so that he could change diapers and feed the baby like I did. He didn't show much interest, until one day when he brought me one of his Hot Wheels cars and asked me to make diapers for the car. He then spent time taking care of his car like I took care of his brother. – magerber Aug 22 '17 at 15:14
  • @magerber my oldest used to drive his baby around making motor sounds. He liked it though. He sometimes also parented it, but often he drove it, maybe tried to fly it like an airplane, or had it barking like a dog. I figured all is fine in imaginative play. – threetimes Aug 24 '17 at 2:47
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My wife thought the same thing until we had a boy.

While the range of enjoyment varies more within the sexes than across the sexes, in general, left to their own devices, girls will gravitate more towards traditional "girl" toys, and boys towards traditional "boy" toys.

Girls can (and do) enjoy lego, but they don't gain satisfaction from spending hours of time alone building towers and space ships. Boys will play with dolls (okay action figures), but not to the extent that girls will play with Barbies.

In our household, we base our decisions about what toys to buy based on what the kids actually play with when they get their hands on it. Most parents I know do pretty much the same thing. Most families have no time or energy to worry about the politically correct issue of the day.

My daughter was considered a tom boy. She often preferred playing with the boys to the girls, and had a selection of both "boy" and "girl" toys. Later, my son inherited many of her toys. He plays much more with the trucks and transformer action toys than she ever did, and not at all with the "girl" toys that still survive.

Disney has not been able to break into the aftermarket for boys nearly the way they have with girls, and it's not for a lack of trying. Girls are eager to dress up as their favorite princess, but boys in general have no prolonged interest in dressing up as this or that pirate or prince.

In the mid 2000's Disney commissioned an anthropologist to study the culture of boys. What they discovered was that boys, as a whole, have an entirely different type of culture than girls, within the same macro-culture. See Link

Based on that research they had to invent a whole new marketing machine from scratch to reach the boys aftermarket. They went so far as too buy marvel comics and Lucasfilm (star wars). Yet they still have not been able to establish a solid aftermarket product that is particularly sought after by boys.

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    My one son spent about 18 months almost constantly in a spiderman costume. He was in it so much I thought I might need a therapist to get him past it. He did eventually stop living as "spidey" though. My boys love dress up, but not Disney, Star Wars and Marvel are the ones that pulled them in the most, or things like random "pirate" or "sheriff". They played dress up more than my girls so far. I still have one that is 3 though, so she is just coming into dress up age, so maybe she will be more into that. – threetimes Aug 22 '17 at 3:29
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    As a female who spent much more time playing with Lego and K'nex than with dolls, I dispute the content presented here. Even if this is generally true and I'm an exception, there are definitely boys who love playing with actual dolls (not action figures) and girls who love playing with cars, trains, and building toys. If someone reads this answer and decides to never buy a doll for their son or Legos for their daughter, they may miss out on something they truly love. – Catija Aug 22 '17 at 3:36
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    I can also attest my 3yr old daughter will spend hours sometimes playing with the wooden train set and I am sure that wouldn't be seen as a girly thing to do. – threetimes Aug 22 '17 at 3:46
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    Keep in mind that the statement started with "the range of enjoyment varies more within the sexes than across the sexes", then elaborated with the findings of a toy marketing giant. I have edited the answer to elaborate a little on my personal experience – pojo-guy Aug 22 '17 at 11:49
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    It is very questionable how much of the "left to their own devices" behaviour is really due to innate preferences and how much is conforming with observed preferences in others and social cues. Which I don't see much point in trying to shield your child from such social biases, I also think it's good as a parent not to be the one to reinforce them. – Michael Borgwardt Nov 10 '17 at 11:34
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I think if you have several kids of differing genders and sexes you will see that overall, no they don't need different toys & your sons can play with barbies just fine.

What makes you assume a lego is a preferable toy to one that allows you to role-play, make up story lines, etc? What makes building better? ;)

Overall though, my children gravitate toward toys you would likely think of being typical of gender. They are homeschooled, have toys of all sorts to choose from and don't have network TV - sooooo, I'd say it's not an uncommon preference and likely not instilled by parents. That said, I do not think a parent should ever discourage a child from what toys they prefer.

That said, I wonder why toy makers make such gender specific toys (dolls saying only "mama") and why the stores most often make such gender specific sections. My sons loved toy kitchens and shopping carts, foods and such. In most store this was all put over with girl toys and many were only available in pink. While my boys don't mind some pink, they didn't want a ton of pink toys. My one son also loved baby dolls. He wanted one that said "dada" so badly and I never was able to find one. So many of these toys have several things they can do these days, there is no reason a doll maker cannot put a "mama" and "dada" switch onto a doll. None.

And of course girls will play with legos, and transformers and generally they are allowed to. Your bigger cultural issue is are boys allowed to play Barbies, My Little ponies, Strawberry Shortcake, or similar "girl" things. Girls have been "allowed" to play with boy toys all my life, they just get thought of as "tom boys". Boys on the other hand are seldom allowed that same freedom to enjoy nurturing play, domestic play, cute play.

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    I think it's the toy stores that have gender separated sections, not the makers. :) – Catija Aug 22 '17 at 3:38
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    @Catija yes you are right. LOL I will edit. It is them though that make all speaking dolls say mama & make 95% female babies and so much pink kitchen stuff. SO MUCH. LOL – threetimes Aug 22 '17 at 3:39
  • That's certainly true! I'm sorry you weren't able to find a doll that said "dada" for your son :( I'm hoping to find a kitchen set for my son when he's a bit older. I think IKEA sells a gender-neutral one. – Catija Aug 22 '17 at 3:41
  • Ikea does sell a very cute one (google image the DIY hacks people have done to that one too). If your little one turns out to be a climber, you may want to anchor it to a wall though. That one is lightweight enough to be pulled around and to tip when climbed on. Not that I have a climber or anything. ;) – threetimes Aug 22 '17 at 3:44
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    With Lego you can role-play, create story-lines, etc, in addition to building. I've spent hours without end playing "Hospital" with my legos - the fact that you can easily disassemble the mini-figures made it all the better. – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Aug 25 '17 at 11:27
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Ask any parent how many toys they've bought for their children that the kids outright ignored. There's a certain amount of cultural influence, but your kids like what they like. They have individual opinions and preferences from a very young age.

My eldest daughter has a very narrow interest in toys. She likes blinky lights and sounds, and will have one favorite toy she plays with until it wears out. People keep giving her dolls, which she has always completely ignored. We just sort of amassed a collection and kind of forgot about them.

Five years later, her little sister was born, and we had this big collection of unused dolls and other "girly" toys lying around in toy boxes, and she took to them like a duck to water. No one gave them to her, or encouraged her to play with them, she just found them on her own. Because of our older daughter we had sort of forgotten that little girls were supposed to like dolls.

So just treat your kids like individuals. They will definitely tell you what toys they like, and there's not much you can do other than introduce them to a wide variety.

  • I completely agree. Over many kids and watching kids though, I will say there are a few toys that are out there that have very wide appeal for some reason. I have an old board with a maze on it that you do things on one side (everything slides and stays connected, no loose parts) then flip it and do the other side and kids from 0-12 will always gravitate toward it. I think I have about 5 things I would say that "all" kids generally show interest in. The rest is very child specific. – threetimes Aug 24 '17 at 2:53

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