Question: My 4-year-old son likes to wear his younger sister’s dresses, shoes and nail polish. I allow it at home, but should I let him wear them at school or parties where other kids might tease him? Or should I say he can only dress this way at home and risk him feeling ashamed of something he loves to do? —Joey Cody, Knoxville, Tenn.
Expert advice: Many toddlers like to dress up in clothing of the opposite sex. One reason boys might be attracted to girls’ clothes is that there is much more fancy clothing available for girls than for boys. Not a lot of boys’ clothes are made in silky, colorful fabrics. Few toddler-size tuxedos or even small Hawaiian shirts are available, so when a little boy wants to dress fancy, there are many more choices in girls’ clothing.
Your son may also be competing for attention with his sister, especially if she gets fancy clothes and other fun stuff from relatives and friends. When children dress up like this, they’re trying on roles and it’s a critical part of their development. Toddlers don’t have a lot of control in life, and dressing up is a way for them to explore what it’s like to be a mom, dad, princess, cowboy. Sometimes they play the baby to try out the role of a younger sibling. Or they take on a certain family member’s role and do it differently.
For instance, if there’s a lot of yelling in a child’s family, she might pretend to be a mom who’s quieter. They know it’s pretend, they’re just imagining what it might feel like to be someone else.
Absolutely let your son dress up in girls’ clothing at home. And most preschools have a dress-up box or corner. But it’s a good idea to limit wearing dress-up clothes to the appropriate places. Just as it’s not appropriate to wear sports shoes with cleats to a wedding, it’s not appropriate to wear dress-up clothes to the supermarket, for instance. There is no shame involved: You’re not discouraging him from his play. It’s really a matter of wearing clothing appropriate to the setting. —Tim Craig
Joey’s feedback: Yes, I agree there are more fancy clothes for girls, and that is exactly why my son is attracted to them! We indulge him in dressing up at home, at his girlfriends’ or cousins’ homes, and at our fitness club’s child-care room, where they have Disney princess stuff.
What you say about acting out a younger sibling’s role is intriguing because my son has been doing a lot of play-acting along those lines lately. He wants to be included in the primping, parties and princess play that we do with his 2-year-old sister. Saying he needs to wear clothes that are appropriate for the situation seems like a good way to put it to him. Thank you!
Go to the next page for expert advice for this question: Is television in general considered bad, or is it specifically what children watch? My 23-month-old daughter watches a bit of TV each day and loves it. Is it okay to use it as an incentive to get her to pick up her toys, brush her teeth, etc.?