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When Little Ones Play Dress-Up

May 15, 2022

Periodically I am asked about a toddler/preschooler who prefers to wear clothes aligned with the gender other than physically presented at birth.

At times it creates a source of conflict for the parents. Where those parents are separated, that conflict can escalate significantly.

Here is a recent response I provided a family law lawyer whose client was involved in such a situation:


At that age, we don’t know if there is truly a gender issue for the child or if the parents are sensitive about the child’s role playing.

It’s not uncommon for kids that young to play dress up, pretending to be one or other parent.

If a parent is rigid about gender and role and the other very flexible, it can create issues where there needn’t be any.

Even if there are cross gender preferences for the child, we prefer the parent to be neutral yet supportive as the child discovers themselves.

Hopefully they (the parents) can meet with a therapist to come to understand child development and that gender is expressed on a continuum, that their child will be best served by allowing the child to be their authentic self.

Hope this helps.

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I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Check out all my services and then call me if you need help with a personal issue, mental health concern, child behavior or relationship, divorce or separation issue or even help growing your practice. I am available in person and by video conferencing.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW for counseling and support – to build your successful practice

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, former parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America. He consults to mental health professionals as well as to mediators and collaborative law professionals about good practice as well as building their practice.

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