My 3 1/2-year-old son is just as interested in “girl” toys as he is “boy” toys. He loves the color pink and recently had me buy him a tutu and a dress. I, within reason (without spoiling him, etc) allow him to get what he wants and restrain myself from telling him that something is for girls or boys. I know his father, who has shared custody, does not support this outlook. I know this is a common stage and part of normal development, but when do you start thinking about possible transgender issues?

 

Dr. Brian Davies (Chartiers/McMurray) responds:

You are quite correct — your son’s interest in “girl” toys and clothing is part of normal development. It is very common for boys and girls to play with toys and dress in clothes that are typically assigned to the opposite gender. We most commonly see this in families in which a younger sibling plays with an older sibling of the opposite sex. Picture a little brother wearing a sparkly Elsa dress so that he can play “Frozen” with his big sister. Usually (but not always) as they age, children will begin to identify more with the gender they were assigned at birth. This brings up the issue of gender identity.

When a baby is born, he or she is designated as male or female based on physical characteristics. According to www.healthychildren.org, an AAP website designed for parents, a child will be able to declare him or herself as a boy or a girl by the age of three. This would be the child’s “gender identity”. Most two and three year olds are also able to identify strangers as “mommies” or “daddies”. They can differentiate toys typically used by boys or girls, and they begin to play with children of their own gender in activities identified with that gender. By the age of four, most children have a firm sense of their gender identity and they learn gender role behavior (doing “things that boys do” or “things that girls do”).

According to healthychildren.org, “Research suggests that children who are persistent, consistent, and insistent about their gender identity are the ones who are most likely to become transgender adults. It is important to follow the lead of the child. This may mean that you will not have an answer for quite a long time, which can be very difficult for parents.”

“All children need the opportunity to explore different gender roles and different styles of play. Ensure your young child’s environment reflects diversity in gender roles and encourages opportunities for everyone.” Have a wide variety of toys available for play (dolls, action figures, trucks, etc.). Have children’s books or puzzles depicting men and women in non-stereotypical and diverse gender roles.

As a parent, you should strive to make your home a place where your child feels loved unconditionally. Try hard not to discourage playing with toys designed for the opposite gender. Allow your children to freely express how they feel. Let them make choices about their groups of friends, activities and sports. Encourage open communication if they have questions about gender and gender identity. It is crucial for all parents to remember to support, love, and accept your child as he or she is.

 

(Read “Gender Identity Development in Children” and “Gender Non-Conforming & Transgender Children” from the AAP’s healthychildren.org website.)

 

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