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High Heels and Pick-Up Trucks

Your little girl has just run over her favorite toy with a dump truck. Your little boy just danced into the living room in your high heels and a princess costume. It might concern you that your child wants to dress up or play a role that doesn’t match his gender. Children don’t always choose to play roles based upon traditional masculine or feminine characteristics. It is important for parents to know that pretend play is not only normal, it can teach our children a great deal about relationships.

Children’s play behavior can reveal their growing understanding of objects and events. Pretend play can also help children understand their feelings towards people and their relationships with them.

Pretend play is not only fun for young children, it is important for them to explore their creative talents. It helps children express themselves in different ways. They can try out the different mannerisms of people they have been watching. You might be surprised to hear your own words repeated by your child.

You may be unnerved when your sweet little girl comes bounding down the stairs in a super-hero costume or your little boy is playing mommy, but this type of play is healthy and does not affect your child’s sexuality. Becoming angry when your child is acting “out of gender” or trying to make your child hide to pretend can be damaging. Remember that it is normal for children to play a variety of roles when they are small.

According to research, pretend play helps your child practice taking another’s perspective, learn to manage their emotions and understand how other people feel. All of these skills will be essential to a healthy adult life.

Pretend play is really important for young children. Here are some ways you can facilitate their play:

  • Find different things for your child to dress up in. Don’t worry about it being “for a girl” for “for a boy.” 
  • Allow boys to play with dolls and girls to play with trucks.  Trying out new roles can be fascinating for children.  Remember, it won’t change your child’s sexuality.
  • Join in on the fun with your child. You can be anything you want to be, have fun, and don’t worry if it is the “right”role to play. Find out what your child likes and why she likes it.

Remember that your child is learning all about different people and growing up. If she is allowed to express her feelings through different characters in different roles, she might learn new ways of relating to people and be able to see things from a different perspective.

Resource: Boys and Girls: Superheroes in the Doll Corner by Vivian Paley.

Revised by: Janice McCoy, Family Life Educator, Whiteside County, Spring 2006, Editor: Patti Faughn, Family Life Educator, Springfield Center, 2006