Lately, you’ve noticed that your toddler girl wants to play with trucks. Or perhaps your toddler boy wants you to buy him a princess dress. As a parent, you might be asking yourself “Is this normal?” According to clinical psychologist Diana Ehrensaft, it is normal for your two year old to be expressing these kinds of desires regards to gender identity. She explains that experts don't know what it will mean for the future, but it is very important for your little two year old to feel free to be a boy in a princess dress. When your child wants to play with toys marketed toward the opposite gender, Ehrensaft says it’s okay and that it’s a variation of how little children express themselves around gender.
As a parent, you may wonder if your child will grow out of experimenting with gender. Some parents say it is common for preschool age children to get over it when they enter school. Others say they do not grow out of it. According to Ehrensaft, it depends on the message the child is getting from their parents and whether or not they are being supportive of their gender identity. Are you telling a boy he cannot wear a dress anymore because he is going to kindergarten? Or telling a girl it is okay to dress up as superheroes? Children who are told to stop or led to believe it is now unacceptable, are going to be “squashed children.” According to Ehrensaft, squashed children are no longer able to feel like themselves or feel ashamed if they do. The most important lesson for us to learn is to listen to the children as they grow and develop.
In some instances, your child’s behavior may be an indicator of gender non-conformity. Ehrensaft defines gender non-conformity as anyone who does not abide by society’s standards of what is appropriate boy and girl behaviors or activities and wants to live outside those boxes. Ehrensaft explains that gender messages come from our brains and we have to listen to what the children's brains tell us. If your toddler girl says to you “I’m a boy” you may hope that this behavior passes or you may question if your child is transgender or gay. Ehrensaft explains experts don’t know what this means other than the fact that your toddler is telling you something very important about how they feel at age two in regards to their gender identity.
Ehrensaft advises that at any age in childhood, a child’s behavior may be an indicator of confused gender awareness. Ehrensaft explains the role of parents, teachers, and professionals is to listen, wait, and be patient. In terms of the parents, Ehrensaft advises they should know they have no control over their child’s gender identity but they do have tremendous influence. Ehrensaft encourages parents to support their children, their gender health and accept their gender identity, whatever it might be.