As a cognitive psychologist, I would focus on the thought processes that go into the learning and understanding of a subject. Gender development stems mainly from growth and maturing and will continue to change over time. The knowledge and understanding of gender depend on the age of the child.
According to Lawrence Kohlberg, gender development goes through three stages. The first stage children go through is gender identity, which is when they acknowledge, or label, their own sex. They usually reach this point around 2-3 years old. Around 4-6 years old, children develop the understanding of gender stability, the second stage, which is the understanding that their sex does not change, although external features can influence this mentality. If a female was to wear a suit, or a male to wear a dress, the child could think this person was the gender they were dressing as, not biologically classified. The last stage is gender constancy, which is reached by 7 years old. Gender constancy is the understanding that gender remains the same, despite the external features such as clothing, hair, etc. Therefore, a child could see a woman wearing a suit and still understand that she is a woman, or a man could wear a dress and still be a man.
Another explanation is the gender schema theory, which focuses more on the child’s role in their own gender development. According to this theory, as young as 2 years old children develop a basic gender schema, which means that they are able to classify themselves, and others, as female or male. After that, the child will look for more ways to understand “female vs male” and begin to act as others sharing their gender. For example, a young boy at a park could see other boys playing with toy trucks, and begin to play with toy trucks and remove toys seen with females from his collection. The gender schema at this age has a very definitive ideology and children seem to reject even gender-neutral toys because they are not specifically the gender the child is classified as. Gender schemas continue to evolve as we grow and mature. As the schema becomes more complex, the child’s brain becomes more open to understanding the gender spectrum and learns to accept more differences. Generally, as children age, their gender schema relaxes and allows gender-neutral and even opposite gender features to come into play.
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