Your neighbor is ticked that you let her 6-year-old son play dress-up with your kids. Do you owe her an apology?
(from our panel of staff contributors)
Huh? Before she needs to get ticked off, she needs to chill. Is this dressing up like pirates or monsters or princesses? Is she irked by this because it involves, say, monsters, and her son is already having nightmares? Or is it because her son donned a princess crown? Maybe it was his chance to be a king? At that age I would think a single instance of dress-up is not the end of the world. Then it becomes mom's decision whether her child comes over to play again. But an apology? Don't think so.
No! That would leave me speechless. I think I would hesitate to have her child return to my home if she was going to react that way.
No need to apologize, since that would imply that you, or the kids, did something wrong.
"This isn't so much about gender as it is about creativity and development," says Anthony Rao, Boston-based psychologist and author of "The Way of Boys: Raising Healthy Boys in a Challenging and Complex World" (William Morrow). "One of the big goals in this age range is learning how to take on different roles and take other people's perspectives and start to understand that the world is full of people who do all sorts of jobs and have all sorts of personalities. A lot of these lessons are learned through play, often by putting on different costumes. This is completely developmentally normal."
Nonetheless, a boy dressing like a princess touches a nerve for some parents.
"I tell parents, 'Let's take all of our preconceptions and all of our baggage and feelings about gender and just take it off our kids,'" Rao says. "They're at an age when they have a lot of normal curiosity and it doesn't predict anything about the future. It's really just about play."
If this particular boy decides, down the road, to dress in women's clothing, it won't be because the neighbor mom let him at age 6. It will be because he wants to.
"Parents certainly have so much power and influence over who their children become," Rao says. "But they're going to separate from you and they're going to be themselves. And if parents can accept that and let go of the fear and anxiety about sending their child down a certain path, the relationship will be much better for everyone."
As for the relationship with your neighbor, well …
"I think you could sort of use some modeling here, 'We just see this as one of the many things girls and boys do, and if you or your son is uncomfortable, let us know, and he can opt out. We'd certainly like to still be friends,'" Rao says.
"No laws were broken, no harm was done. I think you approach it as, 'We're a big, happy neighborhood and we all make our own choices.' And then you let it go."
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