QUESTION: Although we’ve given our three-year-old twins a range of toys to play with, our son prefers playing with vehicles of various kinds while our daughter usually plays with dolls. Over the last few months, they have started playing dress-up, during which both of them dress up in female clothes. The other day, they appeared before us, both dressed in some of my old stuff, and our son proudly announced, “We’re girls!” We’re old-fashioned about such things, but we said nothing. Should we be concerned?
ANSWER: Nothing in a young child’s world is more fun than playing dress-up. Typically, imaginative play of this sort emerges in late toddlerhood. Up until then, the child has a reputation for “getting into everything.” Brain development profits greatly from having a good amount of freedom in this area – when, in other words, his random explorations are not restricted beyond concerns for safety and expense.
As pretend play begins to flower in late toddlerhood, the child begins to explore roles and relationships. Formerly, the child played only “with” things. Now, he begins playing “at” things. Please understand that a three-year-old has no internal censor where such things are concerned, no inner voice telling him that certain clothes are off limits.
The bottom line: There is no significance, psychologically or otherwise, of a three-year-old boy preferring female clothing during dress-up play. Let’s face it, female clothing is generally much more colorful and interesting than male clothing. If your son enjoyed dressing in clown outfits and one day announced that he was a clown, you wouldn’t worry that he was going to want to wear nothing but clown suits when he was a teenager, would you?
This is nothing to worry about. Announcing that he is a girl is no more significant than our daughter Amy announcing at age three that she had changed her name to Sopie. Within a year, Amy was again telling people her name was Amy. Likewise, within a reasonably short time your son will let go of the “I’m a girl” thing. In the meantime, relax and go with the most enjoyable, precious flow of all this. We’re talking about PLAY, not real life.
If it bugs you, and you just can’t stop being bugged by it, then tell the kids they can play dress-up in their own room only. Then, just leave them to their fun-filled imaginations.
[Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com. Copyright 2021, John K. Rosemond]