Common worries about children's play
Some parents have an 'anything goes' approach to their child's play, but there are a few common worries that beset most parents. Most revolve around gender-stereotyped play.
From around three years, most children begin to explore what it means to be a boy or a girl. At this point, parents may start to see that their child's preferred play can become quite stereotypical.
Some girls might only want pink toys, especially those associated with home corner and 'caring' activities, and some boys start to act out 'superhero' roles and spend a lot of their time in physical activity.
While this tends to be a phase, the main drawback with highly gendered play is that your child might be cutting themselves off from some types of play that could be good for their development, ie girls might not think that construction toys are for them or boys might feel that painting is a 'girl' activity.
If you think this is the case with your child, you might like to introduce some toys and play that will address this. Home is a great place to do this, as children are often away from their friends and any peer pressure.
It is also helpful if you join in their play as this extra attention can make a lot of difference to a young child. So, if you have a girl who spends a lot of time in 'nurturing' activity, you might like to get a ball and go outside to do some catching and throwing.
On the other hand, if you have a boy who only plays with guns, you might like to do a little cooking together. By introducing some other types of play, your child will get other experiences and skills, while still being able to carry on 'exploring' gender.
Boys who like nurturing and girls who like trains
Of course, there are some children who choose not to play in gender-specific ways. Again, this can cause some parents anxieties as their children appear to be 'different'. Men, in particular, seem to be concerned if their boys become fixated with pushchairs or dressing-up. This seems to be linked to an anxiety about masculinity.
The reality is that there is no evidence that early choices around toys and games have any bearing on a child's adult sexuality.
Usually, it's the feel of the toys or type of play that is attractive to children, especially if they do not have access to them at home. In other cases, it is because children have been playing with their older siblings and are just more at home with the gender-specific toys.