by Bonnie Shiller, MAT, CDCA Early Childhood Consultant
Oh, to embrace childhood with the joy and reckless abandon of a five year old boy named “Princess Boy”: Imagination at its height and freedom of expression at its depth. But sadly the world has mistakenly chosen to clash with a little boy and his family over this normal daily developmental phenomenon. In early childhood programs the world over girls are playing with trucks, wearing cowboy boots and boys are wearing sequins and lace, high heals and tiaras. My three year old son and his friend Justin would race from carpool to see who would be the first to enter preschool to reach the coveted “pocketbook” in the dress up area first. In 1980 my five year old son asked for and received a play kitchen set. There were adults who did not understand why one would get a boy a kitchen set. There was speculation by those who misunderstood this that he would probably grow up with a confused sexual identity as a result. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He grew up to be a happily married chef!
In the daily act of dramatic play, children role play and mimic behaviors and verbal expressions of someone they are pretending to be. All dramatic play is make-believe. Dramatic play enhances child development. By recreating some of the life experiences they actually face, they learn how to cope with fears that may accompany these experiences. Children who participate in dramatic play experiences are better able to show empathy for others because they have “tried out” being that someone else for a while. They also develop the skills they need to cooperate with their peers, learn to control their impulses, and tend to be less aggressive than children who do not engage in this type of play. Dramatic play engages children in both life and learning. Its’ real value lies in the fact that it increases their understanding of the world they live in, while it works to develop personal skills that will help them meet with success throughout their lives.
On November 16, 2010, Dawn, a teacher, wrote in her blog, Sequins don't make you gay:
Boys seem to bear the brunt of gender socialization in many ways, particularly in early childhood. Girls have a bit of a looser, paradigm to work within - for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that their conformity is bought in more subtle one on one vignettes. We can overlook a girl who doesn't want her fingernails painted, but a boy who constantly walks in with nail polish? People might Notice!
In their article, “I’m a boy but I’m pretending I’m a girl”: Cross-gendered play in preschool children, in Texas Child Care Quarterly (2010) explain:
The preschool period is a time of rapid growth and development. One area that shows dramatic changes is gender identity. Cross-gendered play occurs when children pretend to be the opposite sex during socio-dramatic or pretend play. When children engage in this type of play, caregivers often become concerned about children’s understanding of their gender role. Caregivers may wonder whether children are confused about their gender and worry that this confusion may carry over into adolescence and adulthood. Cross-gendered play does not indicate that a child is confused about his own gender. It’s important that children be allowed to engage in pretend play on a regular basis to enhance their development as well as their understanding of the environment. Children use cross-gendered play to help then develop schemas of male and female roles. Engaging in cross-gendered play does not mean that children will want to be the opposite sex or that they do not under-stand they are a boy or girl. Allowing children to freely engage in cross-gendered play will help them understand gender roles at a faster rate and will let them move on to a new task to master. It’s unwise for teachers and parents to shame or embarrass children for engaging in it.
In all of this high profile public debate we must carefully listen to the advice given above that supports the studies and research by experts in the field of human development: The public should not shame or embarrass a child for engaging in cross gendered play. Nor should we tear apart his family for supporting him. We should applaud a mother and father that are confident that a loving, nurturing family will produce a happy, productive, contributing human being whether he/she wears sequins or combat boots.
Give us your thought on this topic. Thank you!