Living with children: dressing up for 3 year olds is just fun

QUESTION: Although we have given our three year old twins a range of toys to play with, our son prefers to play with vehicles of all kinds while our daughter usually plays with dolls. Over the past few months, they have started to dress up, during which time they both dressed in female clothes. The other day they appeared in front of us, both dressed in some of my old clothes, and our son proudly announced, “We are girls!” We’re old-fashioned about these things, but we haven’t said anything. Should we be worried?

REPLY: Nothing in a young child’s world is more fun than dressing up. As a rule, such imaginative play emerges in late infancy. Until then, the child has the reputation of “getting involved in everything”. Brain development benefits greatly from having a fair amount of freedom in this area – when, in other words, its random explorations are not limited beyond concerns of safety and expense.

As pretend play begins to bloom in late infancy, the child begins to explore roles and relationships. In the past, the child only played “with” things. Now he’s starting to play “at” things. Please understand that a three-year-old has no internal censorship when it comes to such things, no inner voice telling him that certain clothes are prohibited.

The bottom line: There is no meaning, psychologically or not, of a three-year-old boy preferring female clothes during the dress-up game. Let’s face it, women’s clothing is generally much more colorful and interesting than men’s clothing. If your son liked to dress up in clown outfits and one day announced that he was a clown, you wouldn’t mind that he only wanted to wear clown costumes when he was a teenager, would you?

There is nothing to worry about. Announcing that he is a girl is no more meaningful than our daughter Amy announcing at the age of three that she had changed her name to Sopie. Less than a year later, Amy was telling people again that her name was Amy. Likewise, within a reasonably short period of time, your son will give up the “I’m a girl” thing. In the meantime, relax and follow the nicest and most precious flow of it all. We are talking about PLAY, not real life.

If this bothers you and you just can’t stop being bothered by it, tell the children that they can play dress up in their own bedroom only. Then just leave them to their fun imaginations.

[Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com. Copyright 2021, John K. Rosemond]


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