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My son is being teased at school because he likes toys for ‘girls’

John Sharry: Acknowledge your child’s feelings and name this as unkind behaviour

Question: My husband and I are trying to raise our six-year-old son to not be tightly controlled by gender stereotypes. We let him choose his toys and movies based upon his interests and never labelled things as for "boys" or "girls".

As a result, he likes Lego, dolls, superheroes and Disney princess movies. We didn't think this was radical. However, he started school this year and he says he is being teased when he talks about liking "girl" things. He is hurt and confused by his treatment by the other kids.

My husband and I are struggling to support him and explain this to him. I don’t want him to suffer so wonder if I should start steering him towards “boy” things.

How do we navigate this as parents?


Answer: I think you are right to not be rigid about gender stereotypes and to allow your son to choose his own interests and hobbies as he grows up. While a collective gender identity can emerge in schools with boys and girls in different groups, space should always be made for children who have cross gender preferences – this is the best way to preserve children's self-esteem and to help everyone find their individual path in the long term.

Teasing in schools about gender preferences is a form of bullying and should be an issue that the school takes seriously. I would report to the teacher about what is happening so they can address this, perhaps by nipping it in the bud if teasing is spotted and/ or by doing whole class teaching on accepting difference and being kind etc.

When your son talks to you about being teased, you can support him by acknowledging his feelings and naming this as unkind behaviour: “That is not nice… no one should call you names like that.” You can also explain the context in a child-centred way: “Some people think boys and girls should play with different toys. We think that is silly and you can play with ever you want.” If the problem continues make sure to go back to the teacher or the principal as it is the school’s problem to address.

- John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. He is delivering parenting workshops on Helping Children Bounce Back and on Managing Depression in Teenagers on June 14th and 21st. See