Media Advisory: Costumes and toys: Holidays and gender-neutral parenting

From Halloween costumes to Christmas gifts, a Wake Forest University psychologist can help parents navigate changing gender norms. Deborah Best, a child psychology expert and professor who has studied developmental psychology for more than 40 years, shares her insights on recent trends and how moving away from gender stereotypes can benefit young children.

On the limited selection of career costumes for girls 

A mother’s recent discovery that Party City offers 16 career-based costumes for boys and only three for girls has sparked additional conversation on gender and how girls are taught to perceive themselves from a young age. “I think they’re short-sighted on this,” Best says. Promoting this type of mindset to consumers can have a negative impact on how girls view themselves and their abilities—and these insecurities may even follow them later in life.

According to Best, when it comes to career costumes, Party City and other companies who sell costumes should not distinguish between genders.

“Girls can pursue just about any career path they want these days—they ought to have costumes for everyone,” she says.

On gender-neutral toys and their impact on kids 

With stores like Target announcing their removal of the distinction between boys’ and girls’ toys, the line between genders is becoming increasingly blurred. According to Best, this is a good thing.

“Kids who violate gender norms are shied away from by the peers,” she says. “Then we adults impose these  distinctions between what’s for girls and what’s for boys on them—it’s not beneficial for either.”

Although children naturally gravitate to gender-specific toys, playing with other-gender toys may teach new skills.

“They need exposure to ‘girl’ toys, ‘boy’ toys and gender-neutral toys to obtain experience that will encourage them to play across boundaries, to think creatively, and to develop expanded skill sets that include new ways of looking at the world,” Best says.

She says she hopes we continue to see a shift away from gender distinctions with toys so that boys and girls can learn and play without being restricted by gender stereotypes.

About Wake Forest University
: Wake Forest University combines the best traditions of a small liberal arts college with the resources of a large research university. Founded in 1834, the school is located in Winston-Salem, N.C. The University’s graduate school of arts and sciences, divinity school, and nationally ranked schools of law, medicine and business enrich our intellectual environment. Learn more about Wake Forest University at

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