Kids call her son "gay"

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  May 18, 2012 06:00 AM

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My son is 6 years old...He does not play with boys and some times he acts like a girl! We don't know what to do.... other kids at the after school [are] calling him a GAY!
So please let me know something about it!
Thank you so much!

From: GO, Fort Lauderdale, FL


Dear GO,

I'm not sure what it is you want to know, so I'll take a stab:

Does playing with girls mean he's going to be gay? No. Girls and boys play differently. Your son probably prefers to play with girls because the way girls play is more interesting to him than the way boys play.

Is it possible the tendencies you are seeing now are a predictor of adult sexual preference? Possible, yes. For sure? No. Kids change.

Why are the kids saying these things? Kids this age typically don't think in terms of sexual preference, but they do notice differences, including that they like to play the way girls do. This is what his classmates are picking up on: differences, and kids this age feel threatened by something/someone who is different. They are using the word "gay" to mean different.

What should you do?

1. Be sure your son knows you love him unconditionally. Tell him, "I will always love you, no matter what you are."

2. Make sure your home is a place of safety and comfort. Don't tolerate racist, sexist or homophobic jokes or attitudes.

3. Get support for yourself. If the possibility that he is gay freaks you out, read this article in Parenting Magazine.

4. Make sure the school knows about the teasing he's getting. If they don't have a social competency curriculum in place, be the mom who advocates to get one.

5. Support the friendships he has, and don't worry that they are girls. Help him find friends who have similar interests. Talk with him about activities he enjoys and find them for him.

6. Give him opportunity to talk about what happens at school. Does the teasing bother you, or does it bother him? Recognize the difference. If it bothers him, help him figure out coping skills.

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15 comments so far...
  1. My son (now 14) had mostly female friends when he was 6. In 3rd grade he developed a good group of male friends and they all still hang around together, have lunch together at school and are in Boy Scouts and other activities together. Don't worry - he will make male friends in time. Meanwhile, getting him involved in Cub Scouts, soccer, baseball etc. may help him make some friends that have common interests with him.

    Posted by Momof3 May 18, 12 09:10 AM
  1. Consider getting him involved in groups that let him interact with children from other schools, as well as children from his. Sometimes, if you're the picked-on kid, making friends who live nearby but attend another school can give you the confidence to handle the bullies. And making like-minded friends at his school can help him ignore or handle them.

    Don't worry about the "gay" part. Kids say stuff like that all the time, because they've perceived a certain personality aspect to be "gay" because it's not traditionally masculine. He might be gay, but plenty of my straight guy friends had "gay" interests as a kid (music, theatre, not liking sports.) It's just too loaded of an issue to dump on a six-year old.

    Posted by AP May 18, 12 10:54 AM
  1. Your first suggestion "Be sure your son knows you love him unconditionally. Tell him, "I will always love you, no matter what you are." needs editing. Trust me when I say the "no matter what you are" part sounds like "even if you are a murderer/loser/drop-out/jerk" to a kid who's thinking about coming out...

    Posted by qwerty May 18, 12 01:01 PM
  1. He is probably a lady's man and will grow up to quite a catch. Guys who play with girls when they are little stop doing it later on usually. The best thing about this is that when they become men they really, really know how women think and women swoon over them. See if you can get him interested in some basketball too. Nothing so wonderful as an athletic lady's man.

    Posted by Hilda Liegl May 18, 12 11:06 PM
  1. So what if he IS gay? You need to adress your own small-mindedness and ignorance first. This is your child, don't you love him??? If he's gay then he's gay, and you won't be able to change him. Of course right now its too early to tell, but if you think he's gay when he enters his teen years, then you need to accept this and love him.

    Then, you need to call a meeting with the administrators at your kid's school - he should not be teased or bullied at all, no exceptions, and there should be a plan to deal with his tormentors. Plenty of schools have been sued for this - resulting in the school picking up the tab for local private school education if the bullying or teasing won't stop. Consult a lawyer if the school does nothing and threaten to do so to the school if they tell you there's nothing they can do.

    Posted by Jif May 18, 12 11:22 PM
  1. My older son, 5th grade, gets along much better with girls than boys. It is partly to do with his interests and partly to do with his learning style. It has been a rough go through elementary school but is starting to improve at the end of 5th grade as the kids grow out of cooties and hanging around with the opposite gender becomes more acceptable, and he becomes more comfortable just being himself. That last one is definitely a work in progress. I am very hopeful for middle school where there are extracurriculars that will help him connect with those who share his interests, and mixed gender groups of friends become more the norm.

    Posted by been there, struggled with that May 19, 12 10:11 AM
  1. Thank you Jif, someone actually addressed the problem here. I would bet that this has zero to do with his "preference". He is a very young CHILD... this isn't even a factor at this point. IF he is. So what? This is 2012. It is more along the lines that now other kids have found a weakness in this kid and are now preying on it. Talk to the school's administration and let them know that the behavior from the other students needs to stop NOW. It is simply not acceptable.

    Posted by jd May 21, 12 07:38 AM
  1. I agree with the advice. Six years old? Were are the parents of the kids calling your son gay? Kids can be mean and here is a perfect example of that. Let your son enjoy his friendships, be there for him and most important - love him!

    Posted by Roger Taylor May 21, 12 08:13 AM
  1. Please don't use the term "sexual preference".....being gay was never something i "preferred".....

    Posted by larry k May 21, 12 11:59 AM
  1. I'm surprised no one mentioned the possibility that he is transgendered. This is quite different than homosexuality - a transsexual boy identifies himself to be a girl. I could never say whether he is or isn't gay/straight/transgendered. My only knowledge on the transgender topic comes from a very good episode of This American Life, which describes how these children have especially challenging time finding their place in the world, and how some parents/families find this particularly hard to accept and cope with. You should check it out- Google it, you'll find it. It's my personal belief that, as his parent, you have no ability to influence his sexuality. Instead, as you and he learn about "what" he is, your role is to help him navigate life and find happiness as he grows into himself. Best of luck to you and your son.

    Posted by jj May 21, 12 02:45 PM
  1. Gay or straight, people ought to be able to have male and female friends. If he *only* plays with girls, that is rather limiting, and you might consider finding something he likes to do that has some boys involved. But just having a bunch of female friends? Could be he is or will be gay. Could be the girls in that group are more interesting or pleasant to be around (in general or to him in particular). Could be he's already figured out he really likes girls and their attention. Could be he is transgendered, which is a real though not the most common possibility and not a conclusion anyone ought to go jumping to any more than you would jump to the less likely, rather than the more likely, conclusion about anything else without more evidence. I suspect that is going to be the new trendy over-labeling situation, just like every kid who hates scratchy sock seams or T-shirt tags suddenly had sensory integration disorder.

    As for kids calling him "gay," they don't fully understand at that age all the factual and social implications of that word. Yes, there are gay people and they are people who will use that word of themselves, etc.; but it is also used as an insult. I would gently discourage labeling kids with loaded words, but not make a big deal out of it either--it sounds more like an attempt to identify or label or classify (which is what kids do to figure out the word) than trying to insult him. I'm not even sure I'd say they feel "threatened" by difference, maybe more confused as to what to call someone or something that doesn't fit neatly into the simple categories they've learned. I doubt a six year old is having his masculinity threatened.

    Posted by di May 21, 12 11:22 PM
  1. Transgendered? Are we reaching...just a little bit? Come on now! Based on what? Does it really matter? What about the inappropriate behavior from the other kids? Why is the parents/school not addressing that this child is being ridiculed at all? If he is gay/straight/transgendered he is gay/ straight or transgendered (just entertaining the thought for a second here)..but how can this be determined now and on what basis from this letter? Maybe I am missing soemthing here. But none of that shouldn't matter. That may be another conversation later on but what about teaching our kids about treating others with RESPECT???

    Posted by K May 22, 12 07:35 AM
  1. I got called all sorts of names- including "gay"- and it was just considered to be part of growing up. To recognize that one shouldn't be destroyed by name calling was a tough lesson- but I learned it and moved on. These days its like- ALERT! ALERT! Better hire a 200/hr counselor to help my child process this life altering event! I'm not saying ignore everything and your child will be fine- but c'mon people- some of you parents need to chill out and prioritize when to intercede and when to let it go. What's the kid gonna do when they call him a name at college? or at their future workplace?

    Posted by rufus l May 23, 12 07:32 AM
  1. My son was never into sports and was always the smallest kid in the class. Other kids tried to tag him as gay as well just because he liked to draw and hang out with the girls. He figured since he wasn't a jock, he'd get the girls by treating them like intelligent human beings instead of objects. One day, in front of a bunch of his friends, one of the extremely large bullies in his class came up to him and said, "You look gay. Are you?" Instead of getting upset, he replied "You look stupid and I don't have to ask, I know you are". Everyone laughed including the bully and he was pretty much left alone after that.

    Posted by msille May 23, 12 08:03 AM
  1. My son was also taunted and called 'gay' when he was in elementary school. I found out that he was having lunch all by himself. My heart broke. But I talked to him about life and his activities and stayed involved and it never seemed to impact his self-esteem, which is what I was most worried about. He played soccer (although not well) and went on to become an Eagle Scout, graduated college and is now employed in his field of choice. His best friend since Kindergarten has been a girl and they still keep in touch. Although he goes out with girls, he hasn't had a long-term relationship with a girl and I still don't know whether or not he's gay. It doesn't matter. His happiness and self-esteem and comfort in his own skin and place in the world are what matter.
    So my advice is to really keep in touch with him (don't harp on this particular subject) and make sure he is always grounded in your love and support.

    Posted by coolmom59 May 23, 12 08:09 AM
 
15 comments so far...
  1. My son (now 14) had mostly female friends when he was 6. In 3rd grade he developed a good group of male friends and they all still hang around together, have lunch together at school and are in Boy Scouts and other activities together. Don't worry - he will make male friends in time. Meanwhile, getting him involved in Cub Scouts, soccer, baseball etc. may help him make some friends that have common interests with him.

    Posted by Momof3 May 18, 12 09:10 AM
  1. Consider getting him involved in groups that let him interact with children from other schools, as well as children from his. Sometimes, if you're the picked-on kid, making friends who live nearby but attend another school can give you the confidence to handle the bullies. And making like-minded friends at his school can help him ignore or handle them.

    Don't worry about the "gay" part. Kids say stuff like that all the time, because they've perceived a certain personality aspect to be "gay" because it's not traditionally masculine. He might be gay, but plenty of my straight guy friends had "gay" interests as a kid (music, theatre, not liking sports.) It's just too loaded of an issue to dump on a six-year old.

    Posted by AP May 18, 12 10:54 AM
  1. Your first suggestion "Be sure your son knows you love him unconditionally. Tell him, "I will always love you, no matter what you are." needs editing. Trust me when I say the "no matter what you are" part sounds like "even if you are a murderer/loser/drop-out/jerk" to a kid who's thinking about coming out...

    Posted by qwerty May 18, 12 01:01 PM
  1. He is probably a lady's man and will grow up to quite a catch. Guys who play with girls when they are little stop doing it later on usually. The best thing about this is that when they become men they really, really know how women think and women swoon over them. See if you can get him interested in some basketball too. Nothing so wonderful as an athletic lady's man.

    Posted by Hilda Liegl May 18, 12 11:06 PM
  1. So what if he IS gay? You need to adress your own small-mindedness and ignorance first. This is your child, don't you love him??? If he's gay then he's gay, and you won't be able to change him. Of course right now its too early to tell, but if you think he's gay when he enters his teen years, then you need to accept this and love him.

    Then, you need to call a meeting with the administrators at your kid's school - he should not be teased or bullied at all, no exceptions, and there should be a plan to deal with his tormentors. Plenty of schools have been sued for this - resulting in the school picking up the tab for local private school education if the bullying or teasing won't stop. Consult a lawyer if the school does nothing and threaten to do so to the school if they tell you there's nothing they can do.

    Posted by Jif May 18, 12 11:22 PM
  1. My older son, 5th grade, gets along much better with girls than boys. It is partly to do with his interests and partly to do with his learning style. It has been a rough go through elementary school but is starting to improve at the end of 5th grade as the kids grow out of cooties and hanging around with the opposite gender becomes more acceptable, and he becomes more comfortable just being himself. That last one is definitely a work in progress. I am very hopeful for middle school where there are extracurriculars that will help him connect with those who share his interests, and mixed gender groups of friends become more the norm.

    Posted by been there, struggled with that May 19, 12 10:11 AM
  1. Thank you Jif, someone actually addressed the problem here. I would bet that this has zero to do with his "preference". He is a very young CHILD... this isn't even a factor at this point. IF he is. So what? This is 2012. It is more along the lines that now other kids have found a weakness in this kid and are now preying on it. Talk to the school's administration and let them know that the behavior from the other students needs to stop NOW. It is simply not acceptable.

    Posted by jd May 21, 12 07:38 AM
  1. I agree with the advice. Six years old? Were are the parents of the kids calling your son gay? Kids can be mean and here is a perfect example of that. Let your son enjoy his friendships, be there for him and most important - love him!

    Posted by Roger Taylor May 21, 12 08:13 AM
  1. Please don't use the term "sexual preference".....being gay was never something i "preferred".....

    Posted by larry k May 21, 12 11:59 AM
  1. I'm surprised no one mentioned the possibility that he is transgendered. This is quite different than homosexuality - a transsexual boy identifies himself to be a girl. I could never say whether he is or isn't gay/straight/transgendered. My only knowledge on the transgender topic comes from a very good episode of This American Life, which describes how these children have especially challenging time finding their place in the world, and how some parents/families find this particularly hard to accept and cope with. You should check it out- Google it, you'll find it. It's my personal belief that, as his parent, you have no ability to influence his sexuality. Instead, as you and he learn about "what" he is, your role is to help him navigate life and find happiness as he grows into himself. Best of luck to you and your son.

    Posted by jj May 21, 12 02:45 PM
  1. Gay or straight, people ought to be able to have male and female friends. If he *only* plays with girls, that is rather limiting, and you might consider finding something he likes to do that has some boys involved. But just having a bunch of female friends? Could be he is or will be gay. Could be the girls in that group are more interesting or pleasant to be around (in general or to him in particular). Could be he's already figured out he really likes girls and their attention. Could be he is transgendered, which is a real though not the most common possibility and not a conclusion anyone ought to go jumping to any more than you would jump to the less likely, rather than the more likely, conclusion about anything else without more evidence. I suspect that is going to be the new trendy over-labeling situation, just like every kid who hates scratchy sock seams or T-shirt tags suddenly had sensory integration disorder.

    As for kids calling him "gay," they don't fully understand at that age all the factual and social implications of that word. Yes, there are gay people and they are people who will use that word of themselves, etc.; but it is also used as an insult. I would gently discourage labeling kids with loaded words, but not make a big deal out of it either--it sounds more like an attempt to identify or label or classify (which is what kids do to figure out the word) than trying to insult him. I'm not even sure I'd say they feel "threatened" by difference, maybe more confused as to what to call someone or something that doesn't fit neatly into the simple categories they've learned. I doubt a six year old is having his masculinity threatened.

    Posted by di May 21, 12 11:22 PM
  1. Transgendered? Are we reaching...just a little bit? Come on now! Based on what? Does it really matter? What about the inappropriate behavior from the other kids? Why is the parents/school not addressing that this child is being ridiculed at all? If he is gay/straight/transgendered he is gay/ straight or transgendered (just entertaining the thought for a second here)..but how can this be determined now and on what basis from this letter? Maybe I am missing soemthing here. But none of that shouldn't matter. That may be another conversation later on but what about teaching our kids about treating others with RESPECT???

    Posted by K May 22, 12 07:35 AM
  1. I got called all sorts of names- including "gay"- and it was just considered to be part of growing up. To recognize that one shouldn't be destroyed by name calling was a tough lesson- but I learned it and moved on. These days its like- ALERT! ALERT! Better hire a 200/hr counselor to help my child process this life altering event! I'm not saying ignore everything and your child will be fine- but c'mon people- some of you parents need to chill out and prioritize when to intercede and when to let it go. What's the kid gonna do when they call him a name at college? or at their future workplace?

    Posted by rufus l May 23, 12 07:32 AM
  1. My son was never into sports and was always the smallest kid in the class. Other kids tried to tag him as gay as well just because he liked to draw and hang out with the girls. He figured since he wasn't a jock, he'd get the girls by treating them like intelligent human beings instead of objects. One day, in front of a bunch of his friends, one of the extremely large bullies in his class came up to him and said, "You look gay. Are you?" Instead of getting upset, he replied "You look stupid and I don't have to ask, I know you are". Everyone laughed including the bully and he was pretty much left alone after that.

    Posted by msille May 23, 12 08:03 AM
  1. My son was also taunted and called 'gay' when he was in elementary school. I found out that he was having lunch all by himself. My heart broke. But I talked to him about life and his activities and stayed involved and it never seemed to impact his self-esteem, which is what I was most worried about. He played soccer (although not well) and went on to become an Eagle Scout, graduated college and is now employed in his field of choice. His best friend since Kindergarten has been a girl and they still keep in touch. Although he goes out with girls, he hasn't had a long-term relationship with a girl and I still don't know whether or not he's gay. It doesn't matter. His happiness and self-esteem and comfort in his own skin and place in the world are what matter.
    So my advice is to really keep in touch with him (don't harp on this particular subject) and make sure he is always grounded in your love and support.

    Posted by coolmom59 May 23, 12 08:09 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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