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Preschool Boy Paints Nails

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

Q: My 4-year-old son likes to play with dolls and girls' hair, as well as with blocks and trucks. His preschool class was learning about what they would be when they grew up and the classroom was divided by different occupations, one of which was a beauty salon. He came home with nail polish on and tried to hide this from me, attempting to take it off by himself in private. He was extremely embarrassed and afraid that I would be mad at him. My husband reacted harshly to this incident. Was the teacher out of line to put the polish on? Is my son confused about his gender or is this just a phase? Also, could my husband's reactions push my son toward these activities?

A: It's natural for 4-year-olds to try out different gender, family, and work roles. I'm concerned, however, that your son tried to hide the fact that he had nail polish on. His embarrassment and fear that you would be angry with him has to be grounded in his belief that his dad and other adults disapprove strongly of his playing "like a girl."

I would hope that his current desire to play with dolls and girls' hair does not cause you or your husband to fear that he might be homosexual. Such a sexual preference and identity does not surface at this age and he shouldn't be made to feel humiliated if he likes to play with toys considered girlish in nature. You and your husband need to be on the same page on how you parent him, regarding this boy/girl toy activity. Making his teacher aware of your concerns and coming together with your husband on this issue should make your son more comfortable exploring life through play, whatever play he wishes to engage in.

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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.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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