This conversation happened sometime back and after reading through the transcript several times over the past few days, I feel this have to be shared.
Student A: Rachel, when people build more things, it means that they have to chop down the trees right?
Me: That’s right. How do you feel about this?
Student A: Then where do all the animals like the birds and the worms move to?
Student B: And monkeys and ants also.
Me: Where do you think they will move to?
Student A: Another tree? But then if they move to another tree, that tree will become so crowded. And then if people keep on chopping trees, then the animals need to keep moving right?
Student B: Or they die lor…
Me: Well, that’s true… how do you feel about this?
Student A: Then we cannot build more buildings anymore.
Student B: And then where do people live?
Student A: If we keep thinking about people, people and people, one day there will be no animals left. We need to think about the animals too and stop chopping down their homes! (She was actually angry…)
Me: What should we do then?
Student A: Recycle houses? Hahahahaa…
Student B: No… I don’t know what to do.
Student A: I know! We make posters to tell people that animals are so poor thing so we should stop destroying their homes. Can we do that or not?
Student B: Will it be too late? I mean, are many of the animals’ homes gone already? In future, will we still have any animals left when we grow up?
Indeed, will we still have any wildlife left in Singapore when my students who are now 5, grow up? I think it is time for us to seriously think about what we are destroying here… Bukit Brown might be gone soon, along with all its wonderful biodiversity. What is next, Chek Jawa and perhaps the whole of Pulau Ubin?
Let’s stop this before it is too late.
The general experience of working as an early childhood educator
Working with young children is a joy because they are such intriguing creatures with amazing thoughts and imagination. Due to our understanding of how experiences and exposure in early childhood equip children with the necessary life-skills and attitudes that they will bring forth into their contributions towards the society of the future, we are well aware that we are touching the future as we facilitate their learning and development. Being a participant in the process of molding the future, is an amazing experience – for most of us anyway.
It should be entirely so, shouldn’t it? Well no, let me show you the reality.
Where on one hand we are filled with so much passion and joy, the amount of frustrations and stress early childhood educators face can get overwhelming too, especially when our working conditions can sometimes be really appalling and demotivating. Being an early childhood educator can be a physically and emotionally demanding profession. We are not only responsible for the well-being, development and learning of our students, we are also filled with numerous non-teaching related workload that can sometimes be carried out by cleaners and office administrators. As the cost of living goes up, we see our salaries becoming gradually insufficient. This is especially so for those with families to support. In addition, many of us are still not empowered to advocate for our students but are required by the management of our centres to fulfill the demands of parents… which at times, may be unreasonable (towards their children, and towards us). There is also a lack of recognition of the importance of our role and while I am not blaming society at large for this, I think at the very least we should not be insulted with the label “high class nannies” and childcare centres should not be seen as a place for parents to “park” their children (people DO say things like that to us).
Indeed by plain descriptions, these may not seem like anything at all and unless one experiences it on a daily basis, the reality of how demotivated and frustrated we feel at times, may not be truly understood. It is also true that working conditions in some centres may be better than others but generally, things cannot remain stagnant in exploitation of our passion for our work. I am aware that the leaders of the sector are looking into ways to improve our working conditions but we need to speed things up as a sector… before the lack of early childhood educators becomes a crisis and this will actually come to aggravate the negativity because it simply means that our already heavy workload will have to increase again.
Let’s reflect and re-examine
No doubt as an educator, I condemn the action because the implications on the child can be seriously damaging. However, I can empathise with the educator while at the same time my heart goes out to the child and his family. Empathy with an individual though, is not the same as being supportive of her mistake. Nor am I saying that she should not shoulder her part of the responsibility and face the consequences. She should, and she needs help as well (counseling, anger management, medical attention if necessary).
A lot of reflections are needed here, rather than more hurtful words which aren’t really helping. We are gifted with the ability to think, reflect and problem solve. Pure condemnation without a series of thought processes is simply a lazy and non-productive way to utilise our brain cells and the intellectual abilities we are gifted with. I think we are all better than that.
I would personally like to appeal to the general public not to judge the whole lot of us just because of one grave mistake or mistakes of one or a few educators. Early childhood educators are professionals who are well educated in child development, education and to a substantial extent, child psychology. We did not become educators to make life difficult for your children. In fact, I think most parents are quite aware that their children mean the world to us.
a. implication on the ECE sector – this will only deepen the fallacy that all early childhood educators cannot be trusted;
b. possible implication on families/ school community – this will cause misunderstandings between parents whose children are involved in classroom conflicts (e.g., “Your child bit mine first, why can’t my child retaliate?”);
c. possible implication on parent-educator relations – this will cause misunderstandings between parents and educators if parents feel that their children are not being treated fairly (e.g., “My child was punched, and the other child just got a time-out and some questioning?”);
(This paper was written in January 2013 and submitted as a final assignment for a module on helping children cope with stress, while doing my Bachelors. Regarding the referencing, my template on WordPress kinda messed up my indents as required by APA so I have decided to do without the indents.)
In many studies on emotional distress due to extreme adversity, boys reportedly react with more aggression and externalizing problem behaviors whereas girls respond to similar events with more internalizing problem behaviors such as depression (CelebiOncu and Metindogan Wise, 2010; Giannopoulou et al., 2006; Monahon, 1997; Vizek-Vidovic et al., 2000; Winje&Ulvik, 1998). Although gender differences were found to be too small to be of any significance in some other studies (CelebiOncu and Metindogan Wise, 2010) the existence of externalizing problem behaviors such as aggression, delinquency and hyperactivity among boys, cannot be ignored. This is because according to Wefald (2005), “the lives and futures of women and girls are interwoven with those of men and boys” (Froschl and Sprung, 2005, p. 1), therefore the indication that more boys than girls are prone to displaying externalizing problem behaviors, especially aggression, raises the concern of the possibility of future increase in violence towards society-at-large, including women and girls. Also, although externalizing problem behaviors are described as a separate phenomenon from internalizing problem behaviors, they often co-occur (Pesenti,-Gritti, Spatola, Fagnani, Ogliari, Patriarca, Stazi, Battaglia, 2007, p. 82). Besides that, externalizing problem behaviors affect the learning and developmental well-being of all children. Hence, the purpose of this report is to explore the following questions:-
1. Are the reasons behind externalizing problem behaviors displayed by boys due to nature or nurture?
2. What can parents and educators do in their part to raise and educate healthy boys in the face of adversity?
Externalizing problem behaviors
According to Campbell, Shaw and Gilliom (2000), cited by Liu (2004), externalizing problem behaviors in young children refers to actions and expressions observed in children’s outward behaviorthat negatively affects their external environment (p. 93). Rubin, Bukowski and Parker (2006) state that children displaying externalizing problem behaviors such as aggression may become angrier and more hostile over time as they may encounter rejection and victimization from their peers (Eisenberg, Valiente, Spinrad, Cumberland, Liew, Reiser, Zhou and Losoya, 2009, p. 990). In addition,Farington (2001) also mentions that early manifestations of aggressive and antisocial behavior are “a strong predictor of adult crime and violence” (Liu, 2004, p. 95 – 96). Similarly, Loeberand Hay (1997) mention that, “most violence appears to erupt in youths who have been aggressive earlier in life” (p. 384). In contrast to girls, boys reported a higher tendency to display externalizing problem behaviors (Besser and Blatt, 2007, p. 127).
Genetic/ biological risk factors
Liu (2004) lists several maternal pathophysiological factors such as malnutrition, smoking, drug use and alcohol consumption during pregnancy as well as “a genetic predisposition to externalizing behavior from both the mother and father, and birth complications” as biological risk factors (p. 98). Prenatal exposures such as cocaine and alcohol were found to be one of the risk factors related to problem behaviors among children in a study conducted by Delaney-Black, Covington, Templin, Ager, Nordstrom-Kee, Martier, Leddik, Czerwinski and Sokol (2000, p. 782). The study also concludes that boys who were prenatally exposed to cocaine “were twice as likely as controls to have clinically significant scores for externalizing and delinquency behaviors” (p. 782). Prenatal exposure to substances such as tobacco, alcohol and cocaine has been linked to learning problems (Minnes, Lang and Singer, 2011, p. 67). Low intelligence has been associated with violence and delinquency among children and adolescence. The relationship between low intelligence and antisocial behavior is more applicable to males than females (Lober and Hay, 1997, p. 390).
Genotypes may also contribute towards children’s response to adversity. In a study conducted by Caspi, McClay, Moffit, Mill, Martin, Craig, Taylor and Poulton (2007), it was found that maltreated children with a genotype conferring high levels of monoamine oxidase A (MAOA), an enzyme located on the X chromosome that helps to break down neurotransmitters such as serotonin, have a lower tendency to develop antisocial behavior. Citing Brunner, Nelen, Breakefield, Ropers and van Oost (1993), Caspi et. al also mention that a null allele at the MAOA locus in human beings was associated with male antisocial behavior (p. 851). In addition, aggressive behavior has been linked to testosterone, a hormone which is found several times more in males than females (Yang, Gao, Glenn, Peskin, Schug and Raine, 2012, p. 15). Yang et. al (2012) mention that in a meta-analysis conducted by Brook, Starzyk and Quinsey (2001), there lies a “modest but robust” link between antisocial behavior and testosterone although it was also noted that according to Banks and Dabs (1997), studies of testosterone and its link to aggressiveness found in children and adolescents “yielded mixed results” (p. 15).
Psychosocial risk factors
Psychosocial factors are factors that are not biological (Liu, 2007, p. 99). Examples of psychosocial factors listed by Yang et. al (2001) include “low social status, peer influence, physical abuse and parental rejection” (p. 3). Other factors include home environment and neighbourhood. Lober and Hay (1997) state that exposure to physical abuse alters children’s relationships with other adults outside the home (p. 400).
Most common psychosocial factors such as premature maternal detachment, parenting styles and adult attitudes, peer shaming and media portrayals of masculinity fall into the “the boy code”, a term coined by Pollack (1998) refers to the expectations society have for boys, leading to what Kindlon and Thompson (1999) call, “emotional illiteracy” or the inability to deal with emotions (Froschl and Sprung, 2005, p. 3). Pollack (1998) mentions that through high and premature expectations for boys to embrace what society perceives as masculine traits, boys are socialized to hide their emotions, be independent and displays strength in their personalities (p. ii). Similarly, Somoch and Elizur (2009) also spoke about “masculine honour”, a code under which males are expected to “express toughness, strength and dominance in public without showing fear and signs of weakness” (p. 606).
Yet on the other hand as society modernises, boys are also expected to shed their “macho assumptions”, be open about their emotions and sensitive towards their peers. These contradicting ideals result in confusing boys, and may lead to frustration, depression, anger, low self-esteem, failure to succeed in intimate relationships and violence (Pollack, 1998, p. ii – iii).
Biosocial interaction model
“Resilient children are not “born that way”. They are also not “made from scratch” by their experiences” wrote Wang and Deater-Deckard (2012). This indicates that nature and nurture cannot be sole predictors of a child’s personality and in the case of this report, conduct problems. Using a biosocial interaction model of childhood externalizing behavior, Liu (2007) hypothesizes that a connecting relationship exists between biological and social risk factors leading to externalizing problem behaviors (p. 98 – 99).
From the literature reviewed, it is apparent to me that there is no fixed pathway towards developing externalizing problem behaviors in children and specifically, in boys. Genetic/ biological risk factors such as genotype mutations are most of the time, unavoidable. Prenatal exposure to intoxicants and toxins however, can be avoided but we also have to understand that due to the addictive nature of some substances, avoidance may be difficult. As nature and nurture work hand in hand, we have to understand that although nature has dictated certain characteristics in some children, nurture can step in as intervention. Reading Pollack’s (1998) work has reaffirmed my belief that the quality of early experience, specifically with regards to attachment, matters to children. This is because attachment helps children develop their sense of security and as a result, it helps them achieve social competence. In his book, Pollack (1998) mentions that part of “the boy code” includes premature detachment of boys from their mothers as boys are expected to be independent as young as the age of five and six (p. ii). This could perhaps lead to a sense of vulnerability which may come to affect the personal confidence of boys and their sense of security. In a study done by Davidson and Demaray (2007) found that social support from teachers and peers for male victims of bullying are lacking, and hypothesized that teachers may perceive the victim as a target of harmless teasing, or dismiss the behavior of the perpetrators as “boys will be boys” (p. 401). As stated by Froschl and Sprung (2005), when “the teachers began to see the boys as gendered, the notion of resistance came forward. As the teachers’ relationships with each other developed, the resistance subsided and they confronted key issues, such as the strong emotions that boys can elicit and their own resistance to their school’s definitions of gender for themselves and for their students” (p. 13).
Therefore in order for parents and educators to ensure the healthy development of boys, we have to change our attitudes and expectations towards the gender and recognise that they too, are emotional beings who need a safe and non-judgmental space to express themselves.
This literature review sought to answer the following questions:
1. Are the reasons behind externalizing problem behaviors displayed by boys due to nature or nurture?
2. What can parents and educators do in their part to raise and educate healthy boys in the face of adversity?
Materials read with the goal to address the first question show that externalizing problem behaviors displayed by boys cannot be necessarily predicted based on genetic/ biological or environmental factors alone. Instead, it has been hypothesized that there exists a connecting relationship exists between biological and social risk factors leading to externalizing problem behaviors, a hypothesis which I am in agreement with.
Addressing the second question, parents and educators have to be aware of the fact that the different attitudes and expectations they may portray and harbour for both genders might contribute to boys’ display of externalizing problem behavior and girls’ display of internalizing problem behavior, both of which are detrimental to the mental well-being of both genders.
During the process of finding materials to address the above questions, I feel that there seem to be a lack of literature on the actual extent by which gender differences exist. One recommendation that I will suggest to future researchers is to conduct longitudinal studies looking further into the factors influencing gender differences with larger sample size and clearer explanations of how each factor links to another.
Besser, A. & Blatt, S. J. (2007). Identity consolidation and internalizing and externalizing problem behaviors in early adolescents. Psychoanalytic psychology, 24(1), 126 – 149.
Caspi, A.,McClay, J.,Moffit, T. E., Mill, J., Martin, J., Craig, I. W., Taylor, A., &Poulton, R. (2007).Role of genotype in the cycle of violence in maltreated children.Science, 297, 851 – 854.
CelebiOncu, E. &Metindogan Wise, A. (2010). The effects of the 1999 turkish earthquake on young children: Analyzing traumatized children’s completion of short stories. Child development, 81(4), 1161 – 1175.
Delaney-Black, V., Covington, C., Templin, Ager, T., Nordstrom-Kee, J.,Martier, S., Leddik, L., Czerwinski, R. H. &Sokol, R.J. (2000). Teacher-assessed behavior of children prenatally exposed to cocaine. Pediatrics, 106(4), 782 – 791.
Eisenberg, N.,Valiente, C., Spinrad, T. L., Cumberland, A., Liew, J., Reiser, M., Zhou, Q. & Losoya. S. H. (2009). Longitudinal relations of children’s effortful control, impulsivity, and negative emotionality to their externalizing, internalizing, and co-occurringbehavior problems. Developmental psychology, 45(4), 988 – 1008.
Foschl, M. & Sprung, B. (2005). Raising and educating healthy boys: A report on the growing crisis in boy’s education. New York: Education Equity Centre/ Academy for Educational Development.
Liu, J. (2004). Childhood externalizing behavior: Theory and implications. Journal of child and adolescent psychiatric nursing, 17(3), 93 – 103.
Loeber, R. & Hay, D. (1997). Key issues in the development of aggression and violence from early childhood to early adulthood. Annual review of psychology, 43, 371 – 410.
Minnes, S., Lang, A. & Singer, L. (2011). Prenatal tobacco, marijuana, stimulant, and opiate exposure: Outcomes and practice implications. Addiction science & clinical practice, July, 57 – 70.
Pesenti,-Gritti, P., Spatola, C.A.M., Fagnani, C., Ogliari, A.,Patriarca, V., Stazi, M. A. & Battaglia, M.(2007).The co-occurrence between internalizingand externalizing behaviors: A general population twin study. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 17(2), 82 – 92.
Pollack, W. (1998).Real boys: Rescuing out sons from the myths of boyhood. New York:Random House. Somech, L. Y. &Elizur, Y. (2009). Adherence to honour code, mediates the prediction of adolescent boys’ conduct problems by callousness and socioeconomic status. Journal of clinical child & adolescent psychology, 38(5), 606 –618.
Yang, Y.,Gao, Y., Glenn, A.,Peskin, M.,Schug, R. A.&Raine, A. (2012). Biosocial bases of antisocial behavior. In DeLisi, M. & Beaver, K. M. (Ed.), Criminological theory: A life course approach. Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
102 years have passed since the first International Women’s Day was commemorated and we are celebrating the 103rd IWD this year. Although the rights and political and social contributions of women are more valued than before, we must realise that the work does not end here.
More than ever, women are being objectified and there is still a set of fallacies about their “natural instincts” and “social behaviour” adhered to them (common across most cultures). Most women are overworked and under-appreciated as they are responsible for contributing towards the family income AND do what they “naturally do best” – housework, being a nurturing mother and wife. Housewives are considered “non-working” members of the society although they sometimes work from day to night, ensuring that the household is in order. In some cultures and communities, violence committed towards women is still considered a common phenomenon. This stems from the fact that such cultures and communities still hold on to the fact that women should be “punished” and “suppressed”, because they are mere objects whose existence are not considered too important to society-at-large.
Gender inequality affects men too. When men choose to become house husbands, they are considered “lazy” and “useless” members of society. When men choose to pursue their occupational passion in any of the sectors dominated by women such as becoming an educator in a childcare centre, they are considered “unmanly” and many times, barred from doing certain duties because of the general assumption that men have a higher tendency to be pedophiles (a gross misconception). Also, men are expected to hold “masculine” traits, become the main breadwinners of their families and protectors of the “weaker gender”. Those who fall out of the expected set of behaviours and attitudes in life are being labeled and discriminated.
We need to recognise that nurture plays a very important role in shaping behaviours, preferences and attitudes in life among both women and men. No women was naturally born to love pink, diamonds, children or shopping. Likewise, no men was naturally born to love blue, soldiers, adventurers or become leaders in the community. All of these are results of nurture and in order to be fair to our generations to come, we need to work on exposing children to various forms of activities from sports to fine arts without pushing children towards conforming to gender stereotypes.
This is not about inciting a war between the various genders. This is about educating our future generations towards creating a progressive society that gives equal opportunities and respect towards each gender. And to do so, we have to first change our own flawed perceptions about gender roles and the messages we are sending to the young.
I think we can all do it, if we hold enough respect for all human beings in general. What are your thoughts on this?
In this by-election for Punggol East SMC, the common topic among most of the candidates seems to be the lack of childcare centres within the SMC.
Yes, while having more childcare options in Rivervale is important, candidates should do their homework on the purpose of early childhood education, operation costs required as well as reasons causing the increment of fees in childcare centres and preschools before even thinking of bringing it up for their political agenda.
1. Reinforcing a wrong impression of the function of childcare centres
Childcare centres provide early childhood education to children between 18 months to 6 years of age. In some cases, there is also the option of infant care.
Anyone trained in the field of early childhood education will know that the early years are crucial for learning. This is because before neural shearing – the disintegration of unused neurons or brain cells – takes place between the ages of 8 to 10, neurons must make brain connections. Only brain connections that are repeated and used will remain permanent. With these brain connections, or memories, children will be able to develop new knowledge as they grow older.
To put it simply, children must frequently be exposed to concepts through concrete experiences and visual representations in the early years, which will in turn help them understand abstract examples later on in their lives. A good early childhood programme will look into providing a good environment where children can learn through their daily interactions with the materials, tools and people in that environment.
A good early childhood programme will also ensure opportunities for children to develop to their fullest potential by working hand in hand with their families. In other words, childcare centres being providers of early childhood education, exist to cater to the holistic development of young children which includes working with families. Childcare centres do not exist mainly to help lighten the parenting load of working parents. It is a two-way working relationship between parents and childcare centres, but the candidates who are calling for more childcare centres in Rivervale have missed this very important point. Instead, they are reinforcing the wrong message that childcare centres function as some sort of nanny care.
As this is an impression which I believe that the early childhood education sector has been trying to change, I suggest that the candidates stop insulting the early childhood educators working in childcare centres in this way and consider pushing for quality childcare programmes in their campaign messages. That is, if they really do have to use this as one of the selling points of their political campaigns.
There is seriously a huge difference between pushing for quality childcare programmes and pushing for more childcare centres so that parents can have the convenience of picking their children up while on their way home from work.
2. Fee increment in childcare centres and preschools
Indeed over the past few years, fees have increased.
This increment is necessary as childcare centres and preschools deal with the ever-increasing cost of utilities, food supplies and stationeries. Salaries of teachers who also have to deal with the ever-increasing cost of rent, utilities, food and other basic needs, have to increase as well because they have bills to foot too.
If childcare centres and preschools do not increase their fees, guess who will bear the brunt of the ever-increasing cost of utilities, food supplies and stationeries? TEACHERS. Yes, teachers who work up to 9 ½ hours a day, five days a week and 7 hours on Saturdays on a rotational basis.
While most other professionals are able to see their monthly salaries increase annually on at least a 10% rate, teachers see an increment (of their monthly salaries) between $10 to $100 or slightly more per year. Passion you say? Sure all of us in the field are passionate about the development of children but we have bills to pay, children to feed and families to maintain. However, should the cost of living become too high for our considerably miserable salaries to bear, will you, the candidates, pay our bills for us? Never. So quit harping on the increment of fees in the childcare centres and preschools, blaming only on the rent.
Ask yourselves instead, what can YOU do, to help childcare centres and preschools keep their fees low so that more operators will consider opening centres in the area.
3. Operating a centre is not as easy as you think
I am sure that the PAP candidate does not need to worry about this aspect because should he become an MP, he can always work with PCF or NTUC on that. That is his short-cut advantage which is of course, not fair to all the other candidates.
However before anyone considers opening a centre upon being elected, there are some requirements one has to fulfil. Click on the following link to find out more before making such a promise to the electorate. Your experiences in the financial or business sectors do not necessarily mean that you qualify to be an operator of a childcare centre.
That’s all I have to say for now. And I seriously hope that I won’t be hearing more naive talk about childcare centres in the next few days! Oh and… After-School Care programmes are not necessarily offered by childcare centres because the focus of childcare centres should ultimately be children between the ages of 18 months to 6 years of age. Try getting the primary schools to offer that instead.
Response from Kenneth Jeyaretnam, candidate from the Reform Party through Facebook (re-written in my own words):
According to Kenneth, he used to be a director of a childcare provider and his party’s plan regarding the proposal of having more childcare centres was drawn by a qualified early years professional. (Good to know, and hope to hear more about it soon!)
(The following is a modified version of what I have written for one of my degree modules. I will share it on my blog in 2 parts)
“One is not born a woman, but becomes one” wrote Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex in 1949. It was a line that jumped out of the page and confronted me right in the face when I was 17. My world became so much more exciting thereafter and I made a promise to spend the rest of my life working on the issue of gender equality in societies whereby traditional gender roles and stereotypes are still heavily reinforced through family, education, the government, media and popular culture.
The idea of gender inequality was introduced to me at a young age. After my brother was born, all the attention shifted to him and went on for many years. The adults fussed so much about his health and well-being. They praised him for being such a friendly boy while I was the serious one with my books and paint brushes. I was more interested in exploring my environment than interacting with people. The differences in our appearances made it worse for he was obese and I was underweight. People joked that my parents must have had a preference for boys since he looked so well fed. That made me furious and I cursed my unfortunate birth.
Being 5 at that time, I did not realise that because he was born premature, everyone was worried about keeping him healthy and alive. Although I realised awhile later that gender inequality was not the reason why we were treated somewhat differently, the naïve misunderstanding together with my sense of resistance towards the traditional gender roles enforced upon me by people around me when I was growing up, made me seek for gender equality. Hence I was ecstatic when I first heard about Simone de Beauvoir. She made me feel less like an alien because I was brought up to believe that I was the only weird girl alive who was determined in my rejection of the concept of marriage as I viewed it as a woman’s social prison.
De Beauvoir wrote about how gender inequality begins from childhood in her section Lived Experience. I was intrigued but since I was past my childhood, it never occurred to me that it would be of much use to me until I became a teacher. Observing several elements around me from colleagues to toys played by the children, I began to understand that gender stereotypes exist and are being reinforced right from the beginning of a child’s life. This is why I have always tried my best to introduce gender neutral activities, stories, toys and comments in my interaction with children, sometimes much to the criticism of my contemporaries who believe that girls and boys have to be brought up differently.
Theories and research on gender development
The moment a child is born, gender stereotyping takes place at full force. From the choice of colours when buying clothes for the newborn to toys when it comes to gift selection for the baby shower, gender plays a major factor. In fact, exposure to gender stereotypical models will become a consistent part of the child’s life. Social learning theory proposes that examples provided by the existing same-sex models in the child’s environment, along with the constant reinforcement on gender appropriate behaviour plays a huge part on the acquisition of sex-typed behaviours occurring during the pre-school years (Rubel et. al., 1988).
The Cognitive-Developmental Theory formulated by Kohlberg (1966) on the other hand, suggests that children’s understanding of gender develops in stages. Kohlberg believed that children do not actively process gender information until they reach gender constancy which is the third developmental stage of theory that occurs when the child is between 5 to 7 (Sammons, 2009).
Differing slightly from Kohlberg, gender schema theory introduced by Bem in 1981 explains that children develop a basic gender schema by the time they are about 2 and is able to associate themselves as females or males. This marks the beginning of the process whereby children begin to seek out information from their environments to help them understand “maleness and femaleness” (Sammons, 2009). The more they pick up the “contents of the society’s gender schema, they learn which attributes are to be linked with their own sex and, hence with themselves” (Bem, 1981, p. 355).
In my view, we cannot underestimate the power of modelling and reinforcement because they are powerful components of conditioning, as strongly researched by key theorists of behaviourism such as Pavlov (1927) and Skinner (1963). We also cannot deny the fact that children do play an active part in their learning and development and are also able to form their own opinions on gender as they mature as suggested by Bem’s (1981) theory. However as adults who care about giving children equal opportunities to explore their world and develop to their fullest potential regardless of gender, we should bear in mind not to limit their potential by restricting them to ‘gender-appropriate’ paths.
(To be continued in Part 2…)