My toddler is exhibiting behaviours typical of the opposite sex. Should I be concerned?

It is not uncommon for toddlers and pre-schoolers to exhibit behaviours typically associated with the opposite sex, as gender roles are still in development. Boys in kindergarten may be happy to play “girly” games like dress-up, while girls may insist on behaving “just like the boys”. Not all atypical gender interests should cause concern, so be careful not to humiliate your child because of an occasional episode.1

Parents should be concerned if, in addition to demonstrating behaviours and interests of the opposite sex, their child expresses:

  • a persistent desire to be, or insistence that he/she is, the other sex
  • a persistent and strong discomfort with his/her own sex and gender role

If this is observed, parents should seek the guidance and expertise of a psychotherapist who believes that change is possible.2  There is always hope: Development into a heterosexual gender identity is possible.

Development of gender identity typically goes through the following stages:3

0-4 yrs
  • Attachment to same-gender parent.
  • Boys require an additional step of identifying with Father after separating from Mother.
5-9 yrs
  • Attachment to same-gender siblings and playmates.
  • Identification with same-gender role models or heroes during play.
10-14 yrs
  • Curiosity towards opposite-gender peers with complementary qualities.
  • Children who are unable to form healthy levels of attachment in their relationships may become easy prey for sexual predators.
14-18 yrs
  • Self-conscious about emerging man-/ womanhood.
  • Same- and opposite-gender identification with other authority figures.
18-21 yrs
  • Opposite-gender social relationships can develop into more exclusive and romantic interests. Increasingly, heavy media exposure has resulted in this happening at an earlier age.
21 & above
  • Commitment in romantic relationships with a member of the opposite-gender can lead to intimacy that culminates in sexual relations within marriage.

 

Endnotes
1. Mike Haley, 101 Frequently Asked Questions About Homosexuality(Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2004)
2. Joseph Nicolosi and Linda A. Nicolosi, A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality (Illinois InterVarsity Press, 2002)
3. Ibid.