Dear Carolyn • I have a 5-year-old nephew who is starting kindergarten. He is a fantastic little boy who likes "boy" things like cars and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but he REALLY likes many "girl" things like Doc McStuffins, Minnie Mouse and My Little Pony. He is the most interesting 5-year-old boy I know.
When we were at the store, he picked out a My Little Pony lunchbox for school. He was very excited! His mom is worried he will get picked on, and so am I, but I am also concerned about sending the message that he should not be himself. I want him to love school, make friends ... but not change who he is. The next thing to buy is the backpack, and he will want Doc McStuffins. Mom feels she should steer him toward a plain one (no characters).
How do we encourage him to be himself and also not set him up to be picked on because he doesn’t like traditional "boy" things?
Dear E. • But he does like traditional "boy" things — and "girl" ones.
I don’t doubt he’s interesting, but in my experience those tastes are typical.
Some suggestions, easiest first:
(1) No characters (except us, of course). Devotions change but backpacks need to last, so plain it is.
(2) No labeling things "boy" or "girl" until the kids absorb those concepts for themselves.
(3) Once our kids did understand boy-girl expectations, we made it very clear: We thought it was stupid, the whole idea of deciding that a color or hobby or show could be male or female.
(4) Just as their tastes are up to them, so is a decision to risk ridicule. .
(5) When the choice is made, back it.
(6) Foster independence. A conforming kid can be tormented by peers, and a pink-wearing dude can own the place. Plus, over the course of a childhood, everyone gets mocked for something. What’s inside trumps what they wear or carry.
Carolyn Hax’s column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
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