Cars for Daughters, Dolls for Sons. Just Different Toys or Transgenderness?

May 28, 2019

It bothers me. All of my daughter’s games involve playing with cars. What she builds up with construction sets are garages and tracks. What she draws are roads and vehicles. And, well, she plays store, but it is nearly always a car showroom. In addition, today she was watching the F1 race for half a day with comments and enthusiasm. She even went to heat her supper saying: “It is high time for Alonso, to prepare a meal for Petrov and Schumacher”. She has nearly no girlish interests. What should I do?”

– Maria, mother of Sasha, 6

Parents often worry if their child’s behavior differs from what is expected. And the reason may not be kids’ misbehaving, but toy selection, interests and pursuits supposedly not appropriate for a child’s gender. This could be a daughter playing only with boys or a son preferring to play with dolls. Parents worry: “Is everything alright with my child? How can I raise a girl to be feminine if she doesn’t like dresses? Won’t my son grow up to be a homosexual or a sissy because of his “girlish” interests? What if my child is  transgender?”


Such concerns are natural and understandable, but are they justified? Let’s check if it’s true that “wrong” toys are dangerous, how self-identification as a woman or a man develops and what it depends on. We will look at whether it is possible that the absence of one of the parents may influence the child to change gender.

What is gender, and what is the difference from sex?

To start with, let’s define the terms in order to avoid confusion later on. It is important to distinguish the concepts “sex”, “social sex” and “gender identity”. [1]

Sex is a biological characteristic, which includes differences on chromosomal, anatomical, reproductive and hormonal levels. For example, the different morphology of genitalia and body size, the ability to become pregnant and so on – these are the biological differences.

Social sex or gender is the social expression of sex, i.e. it is a set of behavioral features, which shows us what is to be a woman or a man, particularly in current society. For example, a daughter should be calm and persistent and a son – active and mobile. A woman should love children, a man – beer and football. Surely, you will easily recall some more “musts”. Unlike sex, gender – a social set of male and female features – differs in various cultures and depends upon what is conventional in the particular society.


Gender identity is an internal self-perception as a representative of one or the other gender. This perception is connected with cultural as well as biological peculiarities.

A child’s gender identity: how and when does it form?

Self-perception as a boy or a girl normally happens in two stages.

The first stage occurs at the age of 2 – 7. [2] Over this period children show intense interest in their genitalia. They look at them and study them. By 3 years old, already 2/3 of all children understand who they are – boys or girls – although they often think, that their sex may change if external attributes change, for example, hair length or clothes. By 6 – 7 years old, the ideas of sex broaden and an understanding of permanence of one’s own and others’ sex arises. Children understand that a man in a skirt may well be a Scottish man, and that short hair does not turn a woman to a man.

Researchers think that this initial sexual identification, i.e. knowledge of one’s own sex, is the main and the most stable element of self-identity.

It is important to support a child when realizing his/her sex attributes and offer respect to children of the other sex, therefore do not use expressions like “If you cry, you’ll become a girl”. “Do not fight, you are not a boy, boys are bullies and brawlers”. Such mindsets may disturb a child’s confidence in his/her sexual attributes and form negative attitudes to the opposite sex. The active accentuation of differences by adults and intense division by sex worsens the situation resulting in children negatively treating children of the other sex and refusing to play with them. [3]

“When I got pregnant, my entire family was wishing I would have a girl. And we were so very happy when Vickie was born. We were constantly speaking about it, and over-praising. We went over the limits, apparently. We have a man-hater growing. She thinks that all boys are bad, and refuses to befriend with them ever. She says that if she bears a son – she will throw him into the garbage bin. I say that your father is a boy, but he is a good one. She agrees, but the others are still considered bad. She has already had some conflicts at school because of this”.

— Tatiana, mother of Vickie, 7

The second important stage is puberty and the establishment of teen age. [2] Psychosexual orientation, i.e. the preference of partners of a specific sex develops. Of course, the development at this stage occurs not from scratch, but is based upon already established social norms and biological prerequisites. At this stage, it is also important to help children by speaking of the development and change of their bodies and what to expect. Prohibitions, concealments, or punishments for natural curiosity may lead to shame and rejection of one’s own sex. For example, girls may consider themselves as dirty and unpleasant because of periods and boys may despise themselves for pollution. Pollution is the uncontrolled evacuation of semen (sperm), which may be connected with erotic dreams or other factors.

Usually children behaving in accordance with gender roles do not have problems with gender identity since they receive constant approval. An active boy constantly hears that he’s a boy and that his activity is normal as he is a whistle-head and supposed to be like that. A girl who plays with dolls may hear that she will grow into a real woman since she aspires to maternity from the cradle.


Problems may appear when children do not meet expectations. Boys may suddenly want to do dancing or play families and girls want to play with cars and war apparatus. If children act unexpectedly parents may begin to worry.

A boy acts like a girl, and a girl acts like a boy. Causes and peculiarities

Parents get more concerned by the situations
when a child talks about himself/herself in another gender, i.e. there is a girl
calling herself a boy, she says “I am a good boy as I had supper and did my
homework”, and a boy acts like a girl and speaks of himself in the female
gender – what are parents to do in such cases? To start, let’s address what are
the reasons for such behavior.


Let’s identify children of this age as a
separate group since such behavior noticed for children aged 5 – 6 is not an unusual
thing. Children of this age sometimes study another sex through a mimetic response.
Children who are younger often confuse their sex, and senior preschoolers may
just indulge in opposite gender role-play.

“My daughter before she turned 7 or 8 could
wake up in the morning and declare: “Today I am an elephant, Mommy, call me
baby elephant Sonya”. And the entire day she might be playing as an elephant:
asking to read something about elephants, watering flowers with her ‘trunk’, babysitting
baby elephants, protecting her elephant family against lions and tigers. If I
accidentally mixed up and called her by name, she would get upset. Now, she is already
15 and nothing like biological sex reassignment surgery is in her plans”.

– Elena, mother of Sonya, 15

If however the aspiration to be a member
of the other sex appears and is demonstrated in prep school or in the teenage
years, attention should be paid to it.

“A girl like a boy”, social features

Girls may refuse to identify with their sex
because of social mindsets.

  • Reason 1. Being a girl is
    boring and it is uninteresting to play girlish games. Girls are often limited,
    for example, they are prohibited to run, berated for getting clothes
    smudged during play and prohibited from playing boyish games – which seem
    more interesting. A child may totally conclude that being a boy is more
    interesting. You can easily get dirty and build up a construction set. You
    can wear comfortable trousers and never have to braid hair.

“During my entire childhood I was told: “Why
are you running? Such an aggressive girl, awful! You are not accurate! Wipe
your nose! Where is your snowy handkerchief?” Therefore, when I was 10, I
declared that I was tired of being a girl and from now on I am a boy. I even took
another name – Yura. After a year I relaxed, read a book about a girl who kids were
prohibited to play with, and understood that it is possible to misbehave even
being a girl”.

Nathalie, 27

  • Reason 2.  Subculture. There
    is a possibility of your daughter being carried away by books, movies, or a
    TV series, where it is accepted to address everybody in the male gender, i.e.
    a girl does not consider herself as a boy, it’s just accepted and
    fashionable to do so in her circle of contacts.
  • Reason 3. Interests and occupations
    for girls are perceived as valueless and unworthy. Partly this happens because
    of public settings, for example: a teenage girl may hear that all women from
    birth are stupid, incapable of driving, and illogical and are only good
    for giving birth to children and cooking borsch. Naturally, nobody wants to
    be like that, therefore a girl considers herself a boy and rejects her
    sex. Such cases are accompanied with disdain towards one’s own sex and a refusal
    to communicate with other girls.

“For my entire childhood I was thinking
that being a girl is a kind of curse. I kept being told that my task is to get
married and serve my husband and children. Understanding that I would receive never-ending
cooking, housekeeping, dirty dishes, and other unpleasant jobs, I was getting
crazy, especially as I was at an awkward age. I wanted to study. I was feeling an
ability in Math! I was crying and blaming myself for being born a girl. For a long
time I was sure that nature had just made a mistake and I was actually a man, since
I do not have a desire to keep a family and home. I was very lucky because my
parents supported me and found a good psychotherapist. Now I have accepted who I
am and learned to love myself. Being a woman is wonderful, even if I don’t fit the
standards and frameworks”.

– Tamara, 23

“A boy like a girl”, social features

Why does a boy act like a girl?


  • Reason 1. Games for boys are too
    noisy or active. Not all children like active games and if a child prefers
    quiet and calm activities, he may prefer to play with girls who are usually
    calmer, more attentive, and sensitive.
  • Reason 2. A boy doesn’t want to
    behave “properly” as boys are supposed to do. Competitions and contests
    often happen in boys’ groups and they are not pleasant for everyone. A
    child may try to avoid boisterousness and fights and thus join the girls.
  • Reason 3. It is more
    advantageous and more comfortable to be a girl. If there is constant pressure
    on a boy, he may be made to compromise and and share with girls. He
    doesn’t get help and is not protected against offenders since “a man must
    handle himself”, a child may conclude that it’s better to be a girl, since
    girls get protection, compassion and assistance.
  • Reason 4. The male sex is sometimes
    portrayed as unworthy and mean. A boy may begin thinking that it is bad
    and unworthy to be a man. For example because of a familiarity with adult males
    and relatives who lead asocial ways of life including fighting and drinking.
    In such cases a child does not want to associate himself with a man and
    tries to separate from the male sex, thinking “I am not like them”.
  • Family influence on the formation of boys’ and girls’ gender identity

The correct formation of gender identity is not the simple knowledge that you are a boy or a girl. This is the healthy acceptance of one’s own sex, own body and own peculiarities. Surely, the family plays an important role in this process. There are several main points in upbringing, which may lead to refusal towards one’s own biological sex. They are common for boys as well as for girls.

  • Reason 1. If a parent wanted a child of another sex, and the child knows that and constantly hears that – a natural aspiration for that child may be to become the one who the parents wanted, i.e. to change sex.
  • Reason 2. A child experiences a strong and painful love to a parent of the opposite sex and wants to be ultimately like him/her. Often such love occurs if relations with a parent is a cause for anxiety: one parent refuses a child, vanishes for a long time and so on.
  • Reason 3. Strict division of interests and temper features by sex attributes. Such division may be contradictory to a child’s interests, for example if a daughter likes robots and boxing, but parents says that only boys may like robots. Eventually, a feeling that her sex is mistaken may arise, since her interests are not those that are expected.

May a single parent negatively influence gender identity?      

“A neighbor recently said that my child is growing as a freak and gay. Why did he think so? I don’t have a husband, I am a single mother, and I do not know for sure how to nurture a child. Although I have a big family, relatives and parents, and support is sufficient, it is not the same as having a husband as a role model for my son.

– Vita, 25

A mother or father, left without the support of a partner, experiences double the load and double the responsibility. She or he alone will have to do the things usually done by two. Of course, in such situations an element of anxiety about how to bring up a boy or a girl correctly without a father or a mother arises.

The opinion of some people towards the fact that a boy without a father cannot be brought up as a real man, or that a father bringing up children without a mother is fated to fail, only makes such anxiety greater.

Of course, such an opinion is totally mistaken. The absence of one parent cannot change the sex or orientation of a child or make him/her infantile or irresponsible. Important is not the number of parents but the quality of the parenting. A family with one good parent will give a child much more than a full family where one of parents is an alcoholic or a tyrant.

How do you bring up a daughter or a son in a single parent family correctly?

1.   Do not blame the child for any similarity with a parent who is not with you. Physical resemblance is not his/her responsibility.

2.   Do not denounce your child with comparisons. “You will be an idler just like your father/mother”. Such expressions may trigger as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

3.   Do not transmit your negative experiences to a child. “All women are the same, do not trust them. Men need only one thing”. Such an attitude may hinder a child  the future to build up a happy family. Especially traumatic may be the case when a child is of the same sex as a parent who left the family. For example, a mother constantly tells her son that “all men are jerks”, i.e. her son is also a jerk. In such circumstances, a boy may act as a girl in order to achieve approval from his mother, indeed, now he is not like “all men”.

4.   Do not patronize your child. Sometimes, for example, a mother is afraid that her son will grow up and start a separate family, or a father is afraid that he will be left alone without his daughter’s care in old age. This leads to excessive patronage and the development of infantilism in children.

5.   Do not sacrifice all for a child. True, bringing up children as a single parent is difficult, and often a parent who brings up a teenage boy or girl alone forgets about him/herself. But children will grow up and create their own families, so it is good if you have other goals and purposes in life, apart from children.

As you see, problems, which may occur, are not related directly to singleness of the parent, but are rather caused by mistakes in upbringing.

Of course, it is good and useful when a child has a worthy example of his/her sex nearby. But how do you teach a girl to be more girlish and a boy to be more manly, if a daughter grows without a mother and a son without a father? It does not have to be the biological parent who may serve as an example. [4] It could be grandfathers, grandmothers, relatives,  teachers or even characters from movies or books. Many successful people grew up without a father, for example, Mike Tyson, a boxer [5], and Aleksei Nemov [6], the four-time Olympic champion of artistic gymnastics. Of course, their lives were not always easy, but they cannot be called irresponsible or unmanly.


Therefore, of course, a single parent is able to nurture and bring up a son or daughter correctly. If there are role models around of the opposite sex that is of course advantageous. 

It will be very difficult for a schoolchild to cope with problems without the help of parents. Therefore, it is important not only to treat hyperactivity in children of school age with medication if prescribed, but also to help them adapt to school life. What needs to be done for this?

1. Do not forget about yourself. Often parents are tormented by feelings of guilt, they may feel ashamed for their child or worry and fall into depression.

What could help here:

• communication with a psychologist;

• medication, if necessary;

• search for mothers and fathers with similar problems, support and communicate.

2. Create a relaxed atmosphere within the family. A schoolchild’s problems with ADHD can bring chaos and confusion into family life per se. But it is better to consider the condition of the child with understanding. Treatment is important, but interpersonal relationships and an atmosphere of unconditional love are conductive to children achieving the greatest results. Seek help from a psychologist if something is stopping you from accepting and loving your child as he/she is.

3. Implement simple and straightforward rules. The more structured the schoolchild’s life, the easier it will be for him/her to adapt and maintain self-control. Regular hours, daily routines, and observing family traditions will all make the child’s life more predictable and calmer.

4. Tell the child what is happening to them. Often children are frightened of their condition and become upset because they cannot behave as calmly as other children do. Understanding what is happening to them can already improve their condition and reduce anxiety. It is important to talk about ADHD with the child [20], and not to blame or label them.

5. Use psychological therapy. Even if your doctor has not referred the child to a psychologist, find a good specialist yourself. A comprehensive MTA study, which was designed to analyze all methods of treating ADHD and identify the most effective, showed that behavioral therapy gives very good results in combination with drug treatment [21] (In essence, better than just taking medication or just therapy). As a result, children undergoing a course of behavioral therapy took less medication and better adapted to school life.

In situations where a diagnosis of ADHD is incorrect and there is no real brain disorder, behavioral therapy can be an effective way to help a hyperactive child to change his/her behavior.

Why is this type of therapy better?

Behavioral psychology is not aimed at searching for causes (and the causes in this case are organic – impaired brain function), but at changing behavior. For example, an impulsive schoolchild will be able to master techniques that will help him/her restrain and control outbursts of anger.

One of the methods of behavioral therapy is the patented 7Spsy behavior modification technique, which was created to teach children with ADHD to control and change their behavior. Children take classes independently, at home, and our psychologists will answer questions and support the individual child during online chats, by phone and by e-mail. This format of work is more effective than short-term weekly visits to a psychologist, since the child works every day and can turn to the specialist for help at any time.


Taking the course of ADHD correction will allow you to free up a little more time in order to take care of yourself and restore your energy.

Biological reasons, the transgenderness and sexual orientation of boys and girls

Apart from social, there are biological reasons related to our subject. In this case we speak of transgenderness, i.e. the mismatch of biological sex and gender identity.

Last year the WHO excluded transgenderness from the list of psychogenic disorders. [7] However, non-acceptance on the part of society and discrimination and violence towards transgender people may promote depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or even suicide attempts. [8]

In other words, transgender children may feel perfectly well, if it is possible to manifest themselves as they are, but they will suffer stress if they are deprived of such a chance.

Where does transgenderness come from? Role of biology and upbringing

Currently the scientific society holds on to the opinion that the main reason is biological, namely – peculiarities of a child’s brain development during pregnancy [9,10], however the experiences of social elements should not be completely excluded. [11] In any case, transsexual children do not appear because of improper games and toys.

It is timely to tell one story, which gives rise to certain ethical issues, but, nevertheless, demonstrates visually that upbringing alone cannot make a daughter out of a son. [12]

In 1965, twins were born in the family of Janet and Ronald Ramer – Bruce and Brian. At the age of 8 months, for medical reasons, it was decided to do a cutting for Bruce. However the surgery was unsuccessful and the penis was badly damaged. The parents were shocked and within a year addressed the situation to a psychologist – John Mani, who advised to bring up the child as a daughter, and in future to carry out a full sex change surgery. The parents agreed and Bruce was renamed Brenda. However, Bruce didn’t consider himself a girl, preferred rifles and cars, refused to pee sitting and was keen on fighting in school. Bruce knew the truth only when he became a teenager, after which decided to live as a man.

In order to understand what transgender people feel, let us listen to some of their stories.

“I always wanted to be the one who I was feeling like. And I was feeling like a girl. And that’s nothing to do with toys, dolls, dresses and spangles. I liked cars and construction sets as well. But I always knew that I am a really a girl and nothing could make me change my mind”.

Jazz, 18, a transgender woman

“It was very hard for me to accept myself. Up to about 25 I knew absolutely nothing about transgenderness. And it was so strange. I tried to feel as a girl would, but nothing worked. I understood that a woman may look the way she wants, and wear pants and cut her hair short, but I still felt wrongly placed. “Ordinary” people, whose sex matches with their gender, every day receive confirmation of their existence – every time, when they are addressed as women or men, in the street or somewhere else. And we – do not. We are constantly refused in being able to be who we really are and it is sometimes very painful”.


– Victor, 47, a transgender man

Peculiarities of upbringing a child with problems of gender identity: psychologist’s advice

So, your child behaves not like he/she is expected to behave. A son wants to play with dolls and befriend girls, and a daughter fights with boys and prefers a short haircut. What do you do?

Of course, it is necessary to try to speak with your child. Punishments and efforts to change a situation forcefully will not help in solving the problem and only worsen the child’s condition [13] and get him/her far from you and harm the mutual trust and respect.

  • First step. Try to learn from the child. What has caused this behavior? Is it just interesting to him/her to do what he/she does? Or does he/she like a person of the opposite sex and wants to befriend himher? Or does he/she really feel as a person of the opposite sex?
  • Second step. If a child is aware of his/her sex, but games and behavior seem untypical to his/her sex, analyze – you may even put down some notes for yourself. Think about what exactly bothers you in your child’s behavior? For example, your son asks to buy a doll and likes to help you around the house. What bothers you about this situation?

There is an old joke. When you prohibit your son to play with dolls, are you afraid that he will grow up like his father? In fact, stories about a man’s parental failures are often anecdotic. Is it that bad, if a son will learn to cook, wash dishes, and take care of own children himself?

  • Third step. This is when a child is aware of his/her sex but dislikes it. Try to know which limits he/she sees in his/her biological sex? Why does he/she think that being the person he/she was born is bad? Possibly, he/she wants the things which are prohibited for his/her sex. For example, some girls want to wear boy’s clothes and cut their hair short, since boys seem stronger and faster. Tell a child that there are many ways of being a boy or a girl, that it is not necessary to refuse from being feminine in order to be dexterous and fast and that care of family members doesn’t hinder being manful.

Of course, we are accustomed to certain roles: men are like this, women are like that. But in many respects these roles are caused by cultural peculiarities and not by natural prepossession. For example, the concept of manhood is different in various countries. [14] In some places force and success are in favor, and others – kindness and tranquility. The process of upbringing also plays an important part. Sons grow up less aggressive, if this feature is not promoted in them, meantime, they do not lose their manhood. [15]

“My older daughter played only with cars. There were a lot of cars! Now she is a wonderful mother of wonderful children and she has got three sons”.

– Anna, 59

“I have got 3 sisters, 6, 8 and 14 years older than me. I was playing with dolls and daughters-mothers with them for my entire childhood, and they even dressed me up when I was smaller. I didn’t notice that it somehow influenced me negatively. My penis didn’t fall off, I didn’t start to love men. I haven’t got my own children so far but have good relationships with my girlfriend”.

– Kirill, 27

If after all you have serious grounds to consider that your child is  transgender, spend some time to attentively study the subject, consult with doctors, read books and scientific articles. Speak at thematic forums, read what other transgender people write. Also, TV shows about transgender children and teenagers may help, for example, “I am Jazz”. This is a good way to understand and accept your child and the situation and to gain support and understanding from people who have faced it.

Think over the fact as to whether social transfer is possible in your situation, i.e. the change of external features without medical intervention. Such practice is the most optimal way for compensating innate peculiarities and it will help avoid psychological problems, such as depression and suicidal behavior. [16, 17]

Do not think that a transgender child will one day decide that he/she needs another sex, and on the following day he/she is already taken for an operation. Parents will go to various specialists for a long time, collect a heap of information and conclusions and, unfortunately, sometimes get a negative reaction. Often a mother is especially made to feel guilty. Therefore, support is needed not only to the child, but to the parents. Think about getting support from a psychologist who works with transgender people and treats them and their families with understanding (normally such specialists note this feature in questionnaires or “About myself” sections).

Do not forget that every situation is individual and reasons for unusual children’s behavior may significantly differ, therefore, if you feel like you cannot manage – seek the help of  a specialist. He/she will understand what is going on in your family and what to do next.


Information from this website cannot be used for self-therapy and self-diagnostics. 

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