Texas Parenting News
“I’m a boy but I’m
pretending I’m a girl”
Mr. Branson stops by the school to have lunch with his son.
When he steps into the classroom, his jaw drops. There in
the home center is 4-year-old Stefan, wearing a red skirt
and silver necklace and carrying a purse.
child squeals, throwing down the purse and running to greet
are you doing in those clothes?” Mr. Branson asks.
my turn to be the mommy,” says Stefan.
Seeing children pretending to be the opposite sex can be
surprising, even upsetting. What’s going on?
Top 10 tips for enjoying winter holidays
play is a fundamental part of preschool classrooms. It helps
children develop many skills, from language and thinking
skills to social and emotional skills. During pretend play,
it’s common for children to take on roles that are
either real or imagined. Children may pretend to be a dragon
one day and a teacher the next.
also common for children to take on roles of the opposite
sex. For example, a boy may pretend to be a mommy or a girl
a daddy. Children are not born knowing that they are a boy
or girl or what it means to be male or female. This must
to psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg, children learn about gender
in stages. At first, children label individuals as male or
female, based on visual markers such as clothing or hair
length. Children at this stage believe that simply changing
those features will change the gender. For example, if a
child thinks that women wear dresses, then putting on a dress
will make a person a woman.
mature, children may experiment with cross-gendered play
to help them understand that gender is constant. Gradually
they begin to understand that gender—their own and
that of others—doesn’t change with different
clothing. They may continue using cross-gendered play as
a way to understand social role and expectations associated
with being male and female.
children engage in cross-gendered pretend play varies by
child. The majority of children outgrow this form of play
by the time they enter elementary school.
acting, or dressing like a person of the opposite sex typically
means that a child admires some behavior or abilities of
that person. For example, when Jimmy wears a ballet tutu,
he may be showing his fascination with the great leaps made
by Odette in a performance of “Swan Lake” he
has recently seen. Cross-gendered play doesn’t mean
Jimmy is confused about his own gender. Nor does it mean
that he wishes he were the opposite sex any more than another
boy believes he’s a dragon.
reason for cross-gendered play is a lack of specific role
models. If Molly has no father at home, for example, she
may pretend to be a father during play. Similarly, if Adam’s
grandmother were placed in a rehabilitation center for an
extended period, Adam might pretend to be a grandma during
play. Once the role models return to the children’s
lives, such behaviors are likely to decrease.
unwise to shame or embarrass children from engaging in cross-gendered
play. Forbidding a certain kind of play can make it all the
play can be beneficial. Children learn to take on roles and
characteristics that go against the stereotype for their
gender. Boys may learn to be more caring and nurturing, while
girls may become more assertive. Such traits enhance development
and may guide children to explore professions typically dominated
by the opposite gender.
parents will treat cross-gendered play in the same way they
treat other types of pretend play. By playing freely, children
can explore until they understand their gender role and then
from an article by Tiffany Hamlett and Ron Fannin in Winter 2006.
10. Stick to your daily
routine as much as possible. When children miss a nap, fill
up on french fries, and stay up too late at night, they get
whiny and irritable.
9. Cut back on TV watching
to avoid adding to the excitement and demands for the latest
toys. Instead, read an extra story to your children, make
a puppet from an old sock, or go for a short walk.
8. Involve children in holiday
preparations. Slow down and let your child put stamps on
holiday cards, decorate paper placemats or napkins, and mix
cookie dough, for example.
7. If you take children
with you to shop, limit your outing to only two or three
kid-friendly stores. Take along a snack, and locate restrooms
before you need them. Consider shopping by phone or online
6. When buying gifts for
your child, consider one or two quality toys rather than
several cheap or fad toys. Invest in a simple doll or truck,
wooden blocks, and art supplies that allow children to use
them in different ways.
5. If traveling by car,
double check your child’s safety seat. Remember to
take any medications your child might need, along with the
phone number of your family doctor. On long trips, take a
break every hour or two to stretch legs, get a drink of water,
and use the restroom.
4. When opening gifts, remember
that young children often show less interest in the gift
and more in the box and wrappings it came in. Save a few
boxes for your child to play with on cold winter nights.
Save holiday cards and wrapping paper for craft activities.
3. After all the gifts are
open, pack up the older toys and put them away for a while.
When your child tires of the new ones, bring out the older
ones, two or three at time. Rotating toys in this way keeps
children from feeling overwhelmed and makes older toys seem
2. Rethink your expectations.
No one has a perfect holiday season. Children will get cranky,
and some things, like the weather, will be completely out
of your control. Be realistic, choose what’s essential,
and let the rest go.
1. Carve out some special
time to spend with your child. A couple of hours may be enough
for a school-age child, and a morning or afternoon is better
for a younger child. Make it relaxing and fun for both of
you. This is a great way to say: “I’m crazy about
Hidden threats to learning
As parents we often assume that our children will learn simply
by showing up at school and doing school-type things, like
using books and reciting numbers.
well children learn can depend on unsuspecting factors in
the first three years of their lives.
Although this is less a problem than it was 30 years ago,
families that live in houses built before 1972 face some
risk. Lead-based paint could be present in bottom paint
layers and get exposed when newer layers chip off. The
dirt around the house could also contain lead from early
children carefully so they don’t ingest paint chips
or dust. Lead can get in their blood and the brain, where
it can damage developing neurons. If you’re concerned,
talk to your family doctor about having your child tested.
Lack of sleep
Families lead busy lives that can sometimes deprive children
of much-needed sleep. In addition, children can have trouble
breathing during sleep because of swollen tonsils or adenoids,
which can make them irritable or seem hyperactive.
to the National Sleep Foundation, toddlers need 12-14 hours
of sleep a day, preschoolers 11-13, and elementary school
children get enough sleep, establish regular nap and bedtimes.
Offer soothing and enjoyable go-to-sleep routines, such as
a warm bath, story, and a favorite blanket or stuffed toy.
your child sleeping. If your child snores a lot, consult
a doctor about a possible respiratory problem.
Children younger than 2 years need enough fat in their diet
to build the proper coating around nerve cells in the brain.
Never give a baby or toddler skim or low-fat milk.
too much milk—more than 16-20 ounces after 12 months—could
deprive children of other nutritious food and put them at
risk for iron deficiency anemia, which hinders the blood
from carrying oxygen to developing neurons in the brain.
Make sure to take your child for the routine one-year, well-baby
check, when pediatricians check for anemia.
children eat breakfast. After fasting all night, the body
needs glucose to fuel learning. Avoid sugary processed cereals
and donuts. Instead serve foods high in protein and complex
carbohydrates such as whole-grain oatmeal or toast, bean
burrito, egg taco, fresh fruit, egg, and milk.
Too much TV and video
Television is a passive rather than active medium. The neural
connections in a child’s brain are not stimulated
as much while watching TV as they are during hands-on play.
put a TV in a child’s bedroom. Offer toys, blocks,
puzzles, and art materials for play. Turn off the TV during
dinner and before bedtime. Don’t allow viewing of violent
or scary shows. Preview the so-called children’s programs
and videos to make sure they don’t teach conflict and
Lack of conversation
Whoever said children should be seen and not heard was all
wrong. The neurons in a baby’s brain need to develop
connections that enable thinking and learning. These connections
are formed through talking, playing, exploring, and using
all the senses—looking, hearing, touching, smelling,
instincts to cuddle and rock your baby. Talk to your baby
when diapering, feeding, and playing. Read to your child
every day. Strong language skills are necessary for strong
thinking and learning skills.
promptly to your baby’s cries to help the child develop
trust and be alert for learning. Provide a safe home to play
in and explore to encourage the child’s curiosity and
learning about the world. Most important, make learning fun—for
you and your child.
Is your child a picky eater?
At dinnertime, Ms. Jones cuts up a piece of broiled chicken
for 3-year-old Joshua, who’s squirming in his highchair.
She adds a spoonful of mashed potatoes and green beans
to his plate.
5, surveys the food on the table. “Why can’t
we have fried chicken, like at Jennifer’s house?”
foods are not good for you,” says Ms. Jones. “Too
spits out a bite of chicken. “Yucky,” he says.
picks up the piece off the floor: “OK, just eat your
potatoes and beans.”
I want down,” says Joshua.
screams and shoves his plate onto the floor.
counts to 10.
Eating hassles are common with young children. Fortunately,
eating problems usually don’t last forever. Toddlers
often test their growing independence by refusing foods,
and preschoolers sometimes are too busy playing to eat. As
parents, we often worry that our children aren’t eating
enough or the right kinds of food.
some tips to help children learn appropriate behavior at
with your pediatrician or caregiver about the kinds and amounts
of food your child needs for healthy growth. Many children
consume too much fat and not enough fruits and vegetables.
Modify your menus to ensure a balanced diet.
at your home eating routines. If breakfasts are rushed, consider
having calm, relaxing breakfasts on weekends. If children
get cranky right before dinner, consider offering a small,
nutritious snack after school. On the other hand, if children
are not hungry at dinner, maybe they are snacking too much.
a sit-down family meal at least once a day, such as in the
evening. Turn off the TV and engage in pleasant conversation.
Avoid discussing problems.
limits you can enforce. “Take a small serving at first.
Then if you’re still hungry, you can have a second
helping.” “Take small bites and chew slowly.
No spitting out.”
positive reinforcement immediately for appropriate behavior. “Becky,
you’re sitting quietly in your chair. I’ll bet
you’re ready to tell us about your day.” Ignore
whining and other negative behavior as much as possible.
the eating habits and table manners you want children to
develop. “Jerry, please pass the bread.”
food in ways that encourage children to serve and feed themselves
depending on their age and development. Pieces of cooked
chicken and banana enable toddlers to eat with their fingers,
for example. A small pitcher of milk makes it easier for
4-year-old Tommy to pour it by himself.
children’s favorites alongside new foods. With Susie’s
favorite spaghetti, you might serve green beans or broccoli,
foods children don’t like in different ways. Instead
of cooked spinach, offer fresh spinach salad with strawberries
or a spinach omelet. If children don’t like milk, offer
soups or puddings made with milk.
children in grocery shopping and meal preparation. They’re
more likely to eat new foods that they choose and help make.
power struggles over food. If Leslie refuses to eat what’s
served, offer a simple substitute like cheese and crackers.
If she still refuses, gently explain that those are her only
choices. If she later gets hungry, explain that dinner is
over and that she can eat at the next regular mealtime, which
using food as a reward. Instead of celebrating with an ice
cream cone, go to the park, or visit the library.