Don't panic! It's best to let your child blossom into his/her own.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: With so much open discussion about sexual orientation and gender- confusion issues in our culture, it's not surprising that parents often wonder what it means if a child prefers opposite-gender toys. The answer is simple: Most of the time, it simply means they prefer non-traditional toys.
It's important for parents to understand that "sexual orientation," "gender roles" and "gender identity" are three very different concepts that have little to do with each other. "Sexual orientation" refers to the gender -- same, opposite or both -- a person is sexually attracted to. (In common language, that means, gay, straight or bisexual.)
"Gender roles," on the other hand, define those activities which are traditionally associated with one gender or the other. So: If a culture still considers house cleaning and babysitting to be "female" occupations, a male who prefers those activities is simply a non-traditional male. He's not necessarily gay. Likewise, if contact sports and construction work are considered to be traditionally male activities, a female who prefers them is simply a non-traditional female.
Finally, the phrase "gender identity" refers to the gender a person identifies with and feels most comfortable being. "Gender dysmorphia" is a condition wherein one's basic sense of self does not match his or her biological sex.
So, back to the dump trucks and ballet. As today's progressive parents attempt to raise their children in gender-neutral worlds, plenty of children are getting to explore a range of gender roles in their play. That can be very beneficial, because it creates better mental health and more freedom for individual expression. When kids aren't confined to a culturally prescribed notion of "male" and "female," they're free to grow as their individual biology dictates.
The confusion for parents? These gender-related concepts don't always stand alone; sometimes they bleed into each other. (A child with gender-identity issues, for example, may prefer opposite-gender activities as he or she explores life in an opposite-gender body. A child whose sexual orientation is beginning to blossom may experiment with gender roles, too.) But for the most part, these concepts are separate. For instance, a male with gender dysmorphia may feel most comfortable living his life as a female (even with no surgical alterations), yet still prefer to have a girlfriend. Is she then a gay woman, or a heterosexual man with a reversed gender identity? Ask her: She'll probably know.
What psychologists do know for sure about child's play and gender-specific toys is that attempting to shape a child's gender or sexuality will only result in disappointment for the parents and confusion for the child.
Love your children, respect and accept them. The best gift we can strive for as parents is to raise children who like themselves. Children with high self-esteem will be the most successful people in adulthood, no matter their sexual preference or gender orientation.
|Dr. Wendy Walsh holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, and her area of interest is Attachment Theory -- a psychological, evolutionary and ethological theory that provides a descriptive and explanatory framework for understanding interpersonal relationships between human beings. As a psychological assistant registered with the California Board of Psychology, Dr. Walsh has treated individuals, couples and families for a variety of mental-health concerns, including personality disorders, anger management, eating and substance disorders and depression. Connect with Dr. Walsh on Facebook.|