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Two-Year-Old Boy Pretends to Be a Girl

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My two-and-a-half-year-old son pretends that he is his female cousin. She is almost exactly one year younger than he. Dean will say that he is she and demand that he eat with a baby spoon. When she's visiting, Dean will talk baby talk. I know that is for attention. My question is, should I be concerned about his saying that he is she and acting like her when she is not there?

A: I would not be overly concerned about your son's imaginative, imitative behavior. Yes, it's very normal for a child his age to act more baby-like, both to get attention and because he's having a good time doing it. I have spoken to many parents who become concerned with this imitative behavior when it involves the child's pretending he is a girl. At this age, this imitation and identifying with an opposite sex child is not a red flag regarding a child's gender confusion or homosexual thoughts and feelings.

I would become concerned with his insisting that he is Zoe only if it is carried out throughout his daily life, both in your household and in public. That behavior, if continued over several weeks, would merit a discussion with your pediatrician. I would just roll with this now, letting him know that you can play along with him most of the time, while letting him know that you understand that he is pretending. You might even engage his imaginative play in this regard by both pretending that you are Zoe -- he might get a kick out of that. At an unconscious level, kids who are imitating younger children may be saying to grownups that they would like some of that special attention, care and appreciation that they see a baby/younger getting. I am sure that you will handle this with sensitivity, understanding why it's happening and that's it's nothing to be concerned about.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


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