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Gender Play Talk and Sibling Rivalry

Q: When I’m painting my nails, my 6-year-old son wants to join in the fun. He’ll help me, and sometimes paint his too.I don’t see a problem with this, but my boyfriend does. Do you think this is an issue?

A: I have heard this concern regarding boys’ play before. Some dads are very uncomfortable with their sons dressing up in girl’s clothes or playing with makeup. I suppose the concern is that this may cause some gender confusion on the part of the young boy. But there’s no need for concern. Gender identity, as we now know, is programmed in the brain and not caused by external influences

As a culture, we seem to have more tolerance for girls whose play may at times cross gender lines, than we do for boys crossing lines as well. I think this is a reflection of the fact that boys struggle more with what it is to be a man than girls struggle with what it is to be female. We think nothing of the young girl who is athletic and doesn’t like pink. I believe the reason for this double standard is that both young boys and girls live in a predominantly female world, as most caregivers of young children tend to be female. To learn what it is to be male is more challenging, as boys have to find men and older boys to spend time with and model their behavior after.

In your situation, a possible compromise might be for your son to use clear polish. Whatever you decide, please make sure that your boyfriend does not tease or ridicule your son for wanting to experiment a bit and bond with Mom. I see this behavior as totally harmless otherwise.

Q: My sons, ages 5 and 7, seem to fight all the time and it’s driving me crazy. 
How can I encourage them to get along?

A: When you have siblings you have rivalry. It just comes with the territory. But there are some things you can do to help the situation.Let your boys know that your home is a no tattling zone. When they fight, you never want to know who started it or whose fault it is. What you want to know is, how they intend to work things out going forward.

Whenever possible, let the solutions come from them. Once you stop jumping in as referee you might be surprised at their ability to come up with ways to solve conflict. If they are unable to resolve the conflict, it makes sense for them to take a break from one another.Set a timer for ten minutes. Once the timer goes off invite them to try again.If things are still not working then they need to separate for a longer period of time. Try not to take sides, but attempt to stay neutral.

Please know that conflict is normal as siblings are practicing their social skills and working out their place in the family. One of the best ways I know to minimize sibling rivalry is to make sure that you spend one-on-one time with each of your boys on a regular basis. If you spend more quality time with each boy they may feel less need to act out.

Susan Brown holds a master’s degree in developmental psychology, as well as degrees in early childhood education and psychology. A mother, teacher, children’s book author, and nationally known family educator, she works with clients at Everyday Parenting Solutions.
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