From the second a child is born, they form their understanding of the world by interacting with it. For the most part, this is the most powerful and accurate way of learning.
It is the way that children learn that rain is wet, that night is dark, that chairs are for sitting on and that they shouldn’t stick a cactus in their mouth. However, as they construct knowledge through their experiences, children also develop misconceptions about the world around them. One common misconception is the idea that pink is for girls.
Most scientists and sociologists agree that color-gender pairing is not biologically caused. In other words, we are not born with a preference for one color over another. Children, and even adults, develop these misconceptions through messages they receive from their environment. Some messages can be subtle, such as the girls' clothing isle being predominantly pink. Some messages are more explicit, such as being directly told by parents that pink is for girls and blue is for boys.
Of all the gender inequalities and socially constructed gender misconceptions, this might seem like a minor one. However, it is part of a bigger message we are wrongly sending children about gender norms. Children are growing up with the idea that there are major innate differences between the genders that dictate even minute things such as color preference.
As with any misconception, dispelling it can be very difficult. Just telling a child that colors are for everybody is not enough - though you should go ahead and make sure that message is clear anyway! Research has shown that the most effective way of addressing any misconception is by creating experiences that challenge it. If we want our children to believe that pink is a color for all, then we have to show them that it truly is. That means male figures wearing the color pink. Or making pink an option when asking boys to pick something (yes, they might want the pink balloon!) These are subtle messages that add up without direct discussion.
One interesting approach could be showing children how the color pink appears in nature in non-gender specific ways. Take the Amazon River Dolphin, also known as the boto, as a fascinating example. Not only is it one of the few dolphins that live in a river, but it’s also pink! When asked why, some children, and even adults, suggested it might be a ‘girl dolphin.’ Not all botos are pink, but the pinkest botos are actually the older males! Showing your child this dolphin and discussing its color might be one of many ways to send the message that pink is natural and not gender specific.
Show your child the pink sand beaches of the Bahamas. Talk about the science behind the beautiful pink shades of a sunset. Introduce pink flamingos, sea stars, armadillos and pink fish. This way, you will challenge misconceptions around colors while teaching your child amazing science facts and an appreciation for nature.