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Gender Norms

Elementary School Expert Advice from Barbara Potts

Q: I'm very concerned about my three-year-old son. He acts like a little girl. He says he wants to be a girl, he pretends he's a girl, he even plays with all girl things -- dolls, dress-up clothes, etc. He has an older brother who is five and a younger sister who is one.

I know this is normal for three-year-olds, but I have trouble not reacting negatively to it. I don't want to encourage this behavior, so I try to ignore it. But the more I ignore it, the more involved he becomes with it. My older son also engaged in this type of play, but not to this extent. Should I be worried or should I let it go?

A: You are wise not to react negatively to your son's play. Even though you try to ignore it, your son may be sensing that you are upset. Children are very perceptive, and he may be aware of your concerns.

At age three, your son is still forming his own identity and may play with many kinds of toys. Just as your older son did, your three-year-old may in time move to playing with stereotypical "boy" games and toys. Make sure that your son has access to clothes and toys that are traditionally worn and used by boys.

You can also find dress-up clothes for male-stereotyped jobs. React positively when your son plays with these things and encourage him to play with his older brother and other boys in your neighborhood.

More on: Expert Advice

Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.


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