Boys Like Trucks, Girls Like Dolls

Our kids know exactly what they enjoy playing with, so what's with the 'gender neutral' fuss?

In a PC-crazed society in which innate gender differences are increasingly frowned upon, important new research has emerged that illustrates what any sensible parent knows. Kids like to play with toys specific to their gender, period.

How refreshing! And there’s nothing wrong with that.

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The new study hails from researchers at City University London and University of California, Irvine (UCI), and was published in the journal Infant and Child Development. It clearly shows that in a familiar play environment, significant differences between the sexes are evident at an earlier age than gendered identity is usually shown, as reported.

Dr. Brenda Todd, a senior lecturer in psychology at City University and one of the authors of the study, noted in her findings: “Biological differences give boys an aptitude for mental rotation and more interest and ability in spatial processing, while girls are more interested in looking at faces and better at fine motor skills and manipulating objects.”

She continued, “When we studied toy preference in a familiar nursery setting with parents absent, the differences we saw were consistent with these aptitudes. Although there was variability between individual children, we found that, in general, boys played with male-typed toys more than female-typed toys and girls played with female-typed toys more than male-typed toys.”

In a world where retail giants like Target have hopped aboard the gender-neutral train, these findings may reassure parents everywhere that their daughter is just being a normal little girl if she is obsessed with her kitchen playset. If their son runs his play dump truck along the border of the rug for hours — pretending it’s a super-highway — that’s totally acceptable, too.

Dr. Shoshana Bennett, an Orange County, California, clinical psychologist and former special education teacher, knows well that gender preferences rule the playroom.

“Having worked with hundreds of children, I have noticed again and again that even when a wide array of toys are placed in front of boys and girls, it is not only what boys and girls are choosing to play with, but how they play with it. Very young children may both be playing with a teddy bear, but the little boy may be trying to tear the eyes out to investigate what’s inside — while the girl is hugging and nurturing the bear.”

Related: Your Child is Not an ‘It’

One single mother and HR professional in Columbia, Maryland, remembers stark differences in play between herself and her younger brother when they were growing up.

“We had Lincoln Logs, and our mom would empty the bucket and say, ‘Do whatever you want.’ I would immediately try to construct a house to put my little figurines in. My brother would build a road moving away from the house to run his matchbox cars on. My mother always found that so interesting.”

To investigate gender preferences, researchers observed the toy preferences of boys and girls engaged in independent play in U.K. nurseries without any parents present. The toys used were a doll, a pink teddy bear, and a cooking pot for girls — while for the boys a car, a blue teddy, a shovel, and a ball were used.

We’re doing a disservice to our children if we erase gender from their toys, rooms, bedding, and lives.

“The 101 boys and girls fell into three age groups: 9 to 17 months, when infants can first demonstrate toy preferences in independent play; 18 to 23 months, when critical advances in gender knowledge occur; and 24 to 32 months, when knowledge becomes further established,” noted

In each age group, stereotypical toy preferences were found for boys and girls, the researchers found, supporting the idea that sex differences in toy preference appear early in a child’s development. As the ages advanced, both boys and girls showed a trend for an increasing preference for toys stereotyped for boys.

That seems to bode well for young girls who develop interests in science, technology, engineering, and math — as long as their interest is nurtured.

Researcher Todd wrote, “Our results show there are significant sex differences across all three age groups, with the finding that children in the youngest group, who were aged between 9-17 months when infants are able to crawl or walk and therefore make independent selections, being particularly interesting; the ball was a favorite choice for the youngest boys, and the youngest girls favored the cooking pot.”

In a nutshell, we’re doing a disservice to our children if we erase gender from our kids’ toys, rooms, bedding, and lives.

We are showing little faith in who they were born to be.

“It is just as wrong to force a child to not play with a gender-stereotypical toy as it is to deny a girl a truck or a boy a stuffed animal — there is nothing to be afraid of with gender,” said Bennett. “Observe what your child’s natural preferences are, and encourage a wide array of interests very early on.”