A FOUR-YEAR-OLD BOY loves to dress up as a girl and the parents, with so much in the news about this issue, become concerned — is he going to be transgender and the importance of accepting him if he is. Also weighing in here is that when it comes to issues related to sex, many parents feel uncomfortable to talk about it with very young children.
In a recent resource paper, Sexual Health and Safety, Zero to Three, the organization dedicated to the healthy development of young children, discusses what for these parents is a difficult and touchy subject — how to talk about sex to children of toddler age in the belief that these children are too young to have any feelings about it.
However, people studying child development have often noted that gender identity really begins to develop around the age of two when most children begin to notice the physical differences between boys and girls. Many have already discovered their genitals and to touch them from the time they were infants. “Body exploration, sexual play and masturbation is a normal and healthy part of the development for both boys and girls,” Zero to Three notes.
Body Parts Al Have Proper Names; Use Them
Because this behavior is normal, parents can ignore it, or if they choose to talk about it, they should begin to use the proper names for all body parts. Children notice when certain body parts are referred to with special names or aren’t spoken at all. While it may be embarrassing for a parent to label body parts like penis or vagina, the child should hear these terms and treat them as normal parts of his body from a very young age. As the child gets older, parents can teach the child that some parts of the body are private “and only parents, doctors, or the child can touch them”
And it is not unusual for children of three or four to play dress-up, boys pretending to be a princess or girls pretending to be a daddy. A couple of things to remember: a person’s gender identity is not something you create or is something you or your child can change. The most important thing is that the child must know hat he or she is “fully accepted and loved for who they are.” Also very important is to keep in mind is that parents should not use punishment or register disapproval when the child touches himself in his way. This could make children feel ashamed of their bodies and make it difficult for them that they cannot confide in their parents when they have questions or concerns.
Zero to Three counsels parents to seek advice from your pediatric care provider if the child cannot stop touching his genitals even when reminded, tries to involve others in the activity, imitates sexual acts or expresses adult sexual talk or shows some behavioral difficulty like increased aggression, sadness, withdrawal, or an abnormal number of accidents after he o she is toilet trained