Cross dressing in children
cross; dressing; sex; sexual; sexuality; behaviour; boy; girl; clothes; toys; homosexual; stress; games; school; bullied; gender; sexual behaviour; dressing up; crossdressing; cross-dressing ;
Cross dressing is when children want to wear the clothes that are usually worn by the other sex. What people of each sex wear is different in different parts of the world - for example in Scotland it has been quite usual for boys to wear kilts (skirts). It also changes over time.
Sixty years or more ago it would be unusual for girls to wear jeans (boys' clothes) - but after the war there were lots of changes in what people wore. Nowadays it is more likely that girls will be allowed to dress in boys' clothes than for boys to dress in girls' clothes. Parents are often more likely to be worried if their son wants to wear dresses than if their daughter wants to wear jeans.
Cross dressing that most children do
- Children know by the time they are about three whether they are boys or girls. They can say "I am a boy" or "I am a girl".
- A child does not understand until about the age of six that he or she will always be a boy or a girl. Before that children think their sex can be changed.
- It is usual for preschool boys and girls to dress up in clothes of the other sex as a way of trying out what it is like to be a man or a woman, a father or a mother.
- Generally this kind of cross dressing does not last. It is part of all of the child's play activities, and not any more important to the child than other play.
Cross dressing (dressing up) in play like this is a healthy way for young children to learn about and think about the world they live in.
Why children may cross dress a lot
Sometimes a child will want to dress in the clothes of the other sex for a lot of the time and it will seem to be very important to him or her. Here are some of the reasons that this can happen.
- The child believes that his parents prefer children of the other sex. Perhaps there is a new baby of the other sex who seems to be special. The child then thinks the parents wanted the other sex and so he tries to change and be what he thinks they want.
- A parent continually puts down the parent of the same sex as the child. Sometimes parents even find fault with their own sex. A mother may say that it is no fun being a woman and the father may say the same sort of thing about women. This can make a young girl wish she was a boy.
- The child might think that the other sex has better clothes or toys. Sometimes girls get all the pretty things. Or sometimes boys may get the most exciting toys.
- The child does not have people of the same sex that he is close to, to copy the clothing and behaviour. Sometimes fathers are very busy, or working away from home or there may not be a dad in the family.
- The child has an unhappy relationship with adults of the same sex. The child might feel that the parent of the same sex does not like her.
- Some boys are happy about being boys but they don't like the rough play that many boys do - they want to be different.
- Some girls enjoy the adventurous play that they see boys doing, even if other girls don't want to play that way.
- Sometimes children cross dress because deep down they are really not happy about being the sex they are.
When children are not happy about being the sex they are
A few children feel deeply unhappy about being a boy or being a girl.
- This can be a problem when a child continues to believe he or she is, or wishes he or she was, the other sex. Because it is not usually possible for people to change their sex (at least until they are grown up and then it is very difficult) it is very important that they can be happy with themselves as they are.
- This kind of problem can start from birth or before, or at a very early age.
- Usually if the child really wishes to be the other sex you will notice:
- persistent cross dressing especially into the primary school years
- always playing with other sex's toys (for example a boy always wanting to play with toys that are usually thought of as girls' toys)
- usually drawing the other sex (for example boys usually drawing pictures of girls and women)
- the child persistently saying that she belongs to the other sex or wishes she was
- the child persistently saying that when she grows up she will be the other sex.
- Sometimes parents worry that children who go on dressing in the clothes of the other sex over a long period of time will be homosexual.
- Even though homosexuality is accepted as a normal expression of sexuality for some people, parents may worry that their children will be unhappy or may feel uncomfortable about it themselves.
- Many children do not grow up to be transgendered or homosexual, however some do.
- If you are worried about this, talk to a doctor or child counsellor about it.
- Note: Sometimes a child does not want to dress up in clothes of the other sex but will like to take a piece of his mother's underclothes to bed with him for comfort. This is usually not because he is unhappy about his sex, but he may be feeling worried or stressed and having something of his mother's to cuddle makes him feel better. Looking for the cause of the stress and dealing with it often helps with this.
What parents can do
Remember that it may be just dressing up play that all children do.
If you are worried and you feel that the cross dressing is more than the play that all children do, the first thing is to have a think about what is happening in your family and if there is anything that could be making your child feel unhappy about being the sex he is.
- Think about how old your child is, how long it has been going on and how important it is for the child.
- Have there been any stresses in your child's life - a new baby in the family for instance?
- Does the child have an opportunity to be with loving adults of his or her own sex to learn about what it is like to be that sex?
- Has anyone been trying to stop the child from dressing up - and perhaps making him feel worse by calling him names such as "sissy"?
If it is just dressing up play you can be sure that this is healthy.
- Make sure there are plenty of interesting dress up clothes for both sexes.
- Get some attractive male dress up clothes such as silk superman cloaks with stars on them, circus performers, or wizards as well as fairy costumes and jewellery.
If there seems to be some kind of stress, you need to think about how you can make your child feel more secure.
- Teasing or name calling never helps. Children are likely to think they are what parents call them, and then to act like that.
- Spending lots of enjoyable time with a same sex parent or a grown up friend of the same sex is important.
- Make sure the child has the chance to play less rough games eg computer games, golf, art, drama, model making clubs etc.
- Notice when your child does what you want to see more of and what the child does well instead of criticising what you don't like.
If your child really wishes to be the other sex in a lasting way (many children may say this occasionally), you cannot change this and he really needs your support and to know that you love him no matter what.
- Choose a school for the child where you know the staff are interested in making all children feel they are special and where they learn that to be different is OK.
- If your child is being bullied at school it may be helpful to talk to him about the things we do in private and those we do in public. Perhaps he could see cross dressing as something that is private at least until he is old enough and strong enough to cope with the other children.
- If the child is becoming really distressed some counselling may help.
- You cannot change a child who has a real problem with his sex but you need to remember that what children need most from their parents is unconditional love and acceptance. This is especially so if they do not fit the "norm" for the groups they move in.
- Remember that if we had a really accepting society we would care for all people no matter how different they are. Difference should not be a problem but something that makes our lives richer.
For South Australian parents
CAMHS - Northern PH 8161 7389
CAMHS - Southern PH 8204 5412
Ehrensaft, Diane 'Gender born. gender made - raising healthy gender-nonconforming children' Publisher The Experiment 2011
Bradley, Susan, (1991) "Interim report of the DSM-IV subcommittee on gender identity disorders" Archives of Sexual Behaviour, Vol. 20. No 4.
Davenport, Charles (1986) " A follow up study of 10 feminine boys" Archives of Sexual Behaviour, Vol 15, No 6, p 511-516
Doctor RF, Prince V, 'Transvestism: a survey of 1032 cross-dressers' Archives of Sexual Behaviour 1997 Vol 26, No 6 p589-605
Green, Richard, (1987) "The Sissy Boy Syndrome and the development of homosexuality" US: Yale UP.
Zucker, Kenneth (1992) "Psychosexual disorders in children and adolescents" in Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Vol. 33. No 1. P107-151
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.