Our culture is flooded with black and white ideals of masculine and feminine behaviors and traits that leave little room for gray. In a perfect world, a girl should be content she's a female and a boy glad he's a male. How a child views his gender can positively or negatively affect his self-esteem. Kids who are confused and unhappy with their gender are at a greater risk of growing up with unhealthy sexual identities, explains Ask Dr. Sears. It's important for a child to evolve in his unique way and realize that both genders are of equal significance.
Children begin to develop strong gender identities long before they reach school-age. Even a baby may have an inkling of his gender, explains Healthy Children, a website published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Toddlers and preschoolers ages 2 to 4 are usually quite certain whether they are a girl or boy. There's no doubt about it by school age.
Young kids may experiment with traditional opposite sex gender roles. For example, a little girl might play with trucks and hammers and insist on wearing pants, while a young boy may cradle a doll or puts on his sister's skirt. It's completely acceptable to let your child pretend to be the opposite sex, notes the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health. Kids who test the waters of what it feels like to be the opposite sex do not develop an aversion to their own gender, but rather use such experiments to further develop their own gender identity.
A 1997 report published in the journal "Adolescence" entitled "Parental Influence on Children's Socialization to Gender Roles" proposes that the greatest influence on gender role development occurs in the home, as parents both obviously and subtly disclose their own attitudes about gender. The power of parental influence on gender role development suggests that an androgynous -- having both female and male characteristics -- gender role orientation may be more advantageous to children than inflexible adherence to traditional gender roles.
A child usually recognizes his sexual orientation by the middle years. A child's heterosexuality or homosexuality is unwavering and unchangeable, explains Healthy Children. Perhaps the greatest cross to bear for homosexual children and adolescents is dealing with society's expectations to behave like a heterosexual. A non-judgmental attitude that includes support, respect and understanding will help your child make his way through potentially difficult times that can include being discriminated against due to his sexual orientation.
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