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Six-Year-Old Is Cross-Dressing

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

Q: My almost six-year-old son enjoys playing dress up on a daily basis. He mostly plays female Disney characters ie: Snow White, Cinderella, etc. He also plays with Barbie dolls. Dressing them and sometimes making clothes for them from paper towels. He is very creative and enjoys every moment. He does engage in some typical "boy" activities, but not often and that play time does not come from the heart as does his time pretending to be a girl. I'm sure that you can see what my question is. I suppose that I am more curious than anything, as to whether or not this behavior gives us any insight into his future gender idenity. Of course there are many questions that would follow depending on the answer of the first question. What, if anything, should I be doing to help him deal with any difficulties? Please help with any information that you have as I have been pondering this situation for a while and I'm about at my wits' end on how to handle this.

A: Our culture leads us to be very worried about these behaviors in a boy, lest they be indications he is or will eventually be a homosexual. We allow girls his age the umbrella of being a tomboy and do not register the same fears and anxieties. I think we both could agree you wouldn't be as worried if this were your six year old daughter and she was choosing to play the male Disney characters. I can assure you, at six years of age, that your descriptions of his play preferences do not suggest and/or confirm his gender identity. There is no body of hard clinical data stating that your son's current behavior is a reliable predictor of his permanent sexual gender identification.

I would encourage and support all his creative play. Don't show him disapproval or embarrassment when he plays in this manner. The larger issue you are concerned about cannot be resolved at his present age and stage of development. We boys are certainly quickly discouraged from experiencing our "feminine sides." I think men in this culture would develop in a more healthy manner if this discouragement were not burned into our psyche.

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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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