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Your Daughter Likes Trucks; Your Son Likes Ballet

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Don't panic! It's best to let your child blossom into his/her own.

boy ballerina

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.

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15 comments so far | Post a comment now
michelle February 25, 2010, 11:27 AM

This is a really good piece. Thanks.

JMC February 25, 2010, 11:49 AM

Thank you Dr. Walsh for such a clear non-judgmental explanation. And especially for your call to parents to love and respect their children for who they are.

Jill7 February 25, 2010, 12:07 PM

If feel really bad for the children of parents that would obsess about this.

Jeez, heteros. Freaks much???

mercaties February 25, 2010, 2:34 PM

I’m sure you will all think I’m a horrible sterotypical mom but there is no way in hell my husband would let my son join Ballet.

femme February 26, 2010, 7:34 AM

Just a few points to correct what was said;

“…discussion about sexual orientation and gender- confusion issues in our culture..”
It isn’t gender confusion, the child isn’t confused about their gender, some may just not have the gender which matches their genitals. Because of this it would be the uninformed parents who would be confused, the child is the one trying to tell the parent what is their reality.

“…what it means if a child prefers opposite-gender toys..”
What it means is the child doesn’t care about stereo typical adult ideals, they see a toy they like, that interests them, and want to play with it. Adults need to stop putting their own fears onto innocence.

“”Gender dysmorphia” ” is the incorrect term and does not mean what is said as it’s meaning, What she should have put down, which would mean that is Gender Dysphoria not dysmorphia. Seems someone isn’t paying attention to what they write. That or some hidden true colours are coming out.

“…. no matter their sexual preference or gender orientation.”
Ummm it’s sexual orientation and gender identity. Wow I think this doctor needs to forget facebook and work on their own stuff.

Anonymous February 26, 2010, 9:26 AM

I think feminine boys are absolutely adorable.

edith August 19, 2010, 4:26 PM

My son is three and I hope he grows to be slim and beautiful like the boy in the picture. I hope my son likes ballet, but I’ll support anything he’s interested in.

elsie September 2, 2010, 1:39 PM

The boy in the picture is gorgeous!

Jenny September 18, 2010, 6:51 AM

The article omits that some of these activities are just culturally atypical for a boy or girl, but for no particular reason. It’s just society and its silly, arbitrary expectations.

For example: years ago we would frown on a girl who wants to get into construction or trades. Today they’re more common. A male flight attendant was just silly, but now there are plenty of stewards.

How about a girl who wants to become president. Does she suffer from gender identity challenges? Give me a break… the problem isn’t her, the problem is everyone else.

So often I don’t think the child is “confused” at all.

Fashion Trends October 12, 2010, 2:46 PM

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robert January 9, 2011, 7:15 AM

i love doing girls ballet and i see nothing rong with it. people need to get a life

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