The process by which children learn stereotypes is dynamic; it is a combination of biological influences, children's development of socio-cognitive abilities, and the way in which their environment is socially constructed (Blakemore, Berenbaum, & Liben, 2009). Parents, the media, and peers convey stereotypic beliefs and children learn which behaviors are viewed as gender appropriate and which are not (see Matlin, 2012, for a review). By around age 3, for example, most children can accurately identify another child's sex and about half can correctly label toys by gender (Campbell, Shirley, & Candy, 2004); by age 5, most children can do so (Ruble & Martin, 1998). Children's toy preferences reflect these beliefs; research shows that girls are more likely to list dolls, stuffed animals and educational activities as their favorite toys whereas boys are more likely to list manipulative toys, vehicles, and action figures as their favorites (e.g., Cherney & London, 2006). Cherney and London also found that boys' preference for masculine television programs and girls' preference for feminine television programs increased with age. Gender-associated beliefs also can affect the roles children expect to fulfill. Levy, Sadovsky, and Troseth (2000), for example, found that children's predictions about their happiness in future occupations reflected gender stereotypic beliefs; more boys expected to be happy in a masculine occupation and more girls expected to be happy in a feminine occupation.References:
Blakemore, J. E. O., Berenbaum, S. A., & Liben, L. S. (2009). Gender development. New York, NY: Taylor and Francis.
Campbell, A., Shirley, L., & Candy, J. (2004). A longitudinal study of gender-related cognition and behavior. Developmental Science, 7, 1-9.
Cherney, I. D. & London, K. (2006). Gender-linked differences in the toys, television shows, computer games, and outdoor activities of 5- to 13-year-old children. Sex Roles, 54, 717-726. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11199-006-9037-8
Levy, G. D., Sadovsky, A. L., & Troseth, G. L. (2000). Aspects of young children's perceptions of gender-typed occupations. Sex Roles, 42, 993-1006. http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1007084516910
Matlin, M. W. (2012). The psychology of women (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Ruble, D. N. & Martin, C. L. (1998). Gender development. In W. Damon & N. Eisenberg (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology volume three: Social, emotional, and personality development (pp. 933-1016). New York, NY: Wiley.