Q. I’m a worried mother. My two-and-a-half-year-old son loves playing with dolls and they are among his favourite toys. Is it normal for boys to play with girls’ toys? Should I stop it or encourage it?
A. At the age of two, your son’s interest in playing with dolls is pretty normal. As far as your son is concerned, he is just happy to be doing the things that excite him. Often, it is adults that put pressure on children to behave in certain ways because according to them, their children’s gender, the roles and the kind of activities they should engage in are pretty clear! After all, boys tumble around and wrestle while girls play house, right?
Several things, including sheer interest, might spark your son’s new muse. Kids can be just as equally fickle as they are adamant when it comes to what they want. One day they can’t ‘live’ without their favourite toy and the next day they are dead to it. So it may be just another passing phase.
The second aspect to consider is imitation. Children learn by observing and copying from their surroundings. Often times, they mirror a parent of the same sex. They may also mirror some aspects of a parent of the opposite sex as well. Your son’s actions could be inspired by you or another female individual in the house such as a sister (especially if she is really into dolls!). He could be picking cues from other activities in his environment as well for instance, the kind of shows he watches on TV. If you are also in some industries such as hair, fashion, beauty or modelling and you expose your child to such, they may be picking their cues from there.
One of the concerns that parents express when children do not behave in tandem with their gender-related expectations is whether they are facing some form of identity crisis or difficulty with hitting some gender-specific milestones. Many parents fear (and society often times wrongly assumes) that a boy child playing with a doll or insisting on wearing a dress are signs that the child may have bisexual or homosexual tendencies or orientation. This is untrue in most cases and simply boils down to a question of stereotypes.
By 2015, Target, one of America’s largest department stores, had stopped using gender references (boys/girls) as a means of identification for toys. This is in keeping with the new wave of feminism that aims to wipe out misogyny by sending messages to girls that they have freedom of choice and power to actualise their dreams in whichever careers or manner or opportunity available, as opposed to limiting themselves to traditionally acceptable roles such as being housewives, which is not inherently wrong in itself provided it’s one choice.
While this wave has taken root for the girl child, the boy child still lags behind. Men are still expected to act tough, macho, all-knowing and not to break down or express themselves in certain ways because it is a sign of weakness.
According to psychologists, however, a boy child who expresses interest in traditionally female-related roles such as cooking or in your case, playing with dolls, has a higher chance of having a better formed form of emotional intelligence as they are able to learn empathy and nurturing skills not to mention form better understanding of how to relate with members of the opposite sex. This not only makes them a better sibling, boyfriend or husband, but chances are, a better father as well.
So there is nothing to worry about. Do not punish, forcibly remove or criticise your son for ‘wrong’ choices; instead, use it as a teaching tool. After all, how he treats the doll can reveal what kind of emotional intelligence they already possess. You can, however, seek guidance in the event your son:
Is unsure of his gender by their third birthday.
Persistently denies their sex in preference for the opposite.
Insists that he wants the anatomy of the opposite sex and is emotional about it.
Published March 2017