I have a question about my son, and I really don't know what to do. My son got out of bed this morning, came downstairs, and gave me a hug. I felt something on his back, and realized he was wearing one of his sister's training bras, under his pajama shirt. He is 8 years old. I did ask him why he was wearing it, and he said he didn't know. I am just still shocked. We have tried to be very open to my children about sexual issues. We have talked about homosexuality, explaining that if they are gay, we will still love them. Or, if they have friends who are gay, they will be welcome in our house, etc. This, however, I wasn't prepared for. I know some children cross-dress at 4 and 5, maybe wear a skirt to play house, etc, but this, to me, is different. Should I ignore it? Not bring it up again? Talk to his pediatrician? Please help! I don't want to do or say the wrong thing. Thank you.
From: Confused & Concerned (no town given)
Dear Confused & Concerned,
I consulted with psychologist Michael Thompson on this. He's someone whose work I've admired, both professional and personally.
Here's our conversation:
MT. Let's see, the sister is probably about 12. At one level, he must be fascinated by his sister’s growth & development.... Possibly this is just curiosity about the life of girls and women. He sees his sister changing and wonders what it's all about....
BM. ....and doesn't have any way to express it?
MT. Precisely. Did you ever see a French movie, "Murmur of the Heart"? This reminds me of that. There's a scene where a boy takes his mother's clothes and lays them out in the shape of a woman and stares at them. I thought that showed great understanding by the filmmaker, Louis Malle, of a boy trying to understanding the other gender by putting himself in their shoes. So possibly all this is about is a curiosity of the life of girls and women.
BM. On the other hand?
MT. On the other hand, it is also possible this is a foreshadowing of a boy who will be interested in cross-dressing or gay, two very different categories. It is unusual, however, to see a first sign of [cross-dressing] at 8; [this mother] is right, that it often surfaces at 4, 5.
BM. What would you suggest to her?
MT. Consider this a wait-and-see situation, whether it's a one-time thing or not. Look for a chance to say to him, "When you had on your sister’s bra, it made me wonder if you're curious about her and the way her body is changing. Do you want to ask me any questions about it?"
Books on puberty, mentioned recently in another Q&A, may also be helpful.
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