Gender Identity in Children

…And That’s What Little Girls/Boys are Made Of

This is the age when children learn about the differences between boys and girls and become very aware of their own sex. As most experts have come to realize, there are true differences between boys and girls and these have nothing to do with cultural conditioning. In general boys are more physically aggressive, girls more verbal. Boys are drawn to anything with wheels, and most girls are not. Girls are drawn to dolls, most boys are not. There are many other differences that have to do with the way boys and girls learn and communicate.

However scientific they may be, these are generalizations. Some girls prefer typical “boy” activities, and some boys like to play with dolls. The tomboy seems to be more accepted by parents than a boy who likes to play with dolls or has other more “feminine” ways. Fathers, especially, may get very upset if they see their son playing in the kitchen or with a doll. If a child shows that they are happy and comfortable in their gender role, there is probably nothing wrong. Boys need to learn to nurture as well as girls. In addition, girls can benefit from play that is more aggressive.

If a child seems uncomfortable in their gender role or frequently makes statements like: “I wish I were a boy,” or “I’m not a girl, I’m a boy,” it may signal that your child is not happy with his / her gender identity. Children sometimes feel, correctly, or incorrectly, that their parents value one sex more than the other, or that their parents are unhappy because they wanted the opposite sex child. These matters can be very complex psychologically and usually need referral to a professional. If you suspect your child is having a conflict about his or her gender identity, please discuss it with your pediatrician or family practitioner.