Question: After watching a television talk show on the subject of "transgendered" children I’ve become very concerned about my daughter. She’s very "tomboyish" and likes to dress and act like a boy. She also idolizes her dad and spends a great deal of time playing sports with him. Do you think she needs counselling?


First, we don’t recommend that you rely on television talk shows for advice concerning serious psychological issues, especially when it’s a question of gender identity. Not only is the content of these programs strongly influenced by prevailing cultural mores – it’s also consciously designed primarily with an eye to entertainment value rather than scientific accuracy.

Understand the why

But to come to your question: based on what you’ve told us, we’d suggest that you need to take a closer look at why your daughter seems to relate more powerfully with her father than she does with you. When a little girl rejects or turns away from her femininity, it’s usually because something is going on in her relationship with her mother. There is also a possibility that she has somehow come to regard femaleness as weak or unattractive. This can happen when her mother is emotionally unavailable or depressed, or if she is constantly belittled or put down by her husband. It can also be a result of sexual abuse. Only you know to what extent these factors may or may not be relevant to your situation.

Fortunately, there may be a simpler explanation for your daughter’s behaviour. In some cases a girl can be a tomboy just because she’s wired that way. In other words, her temperament pre-disposes her act in ways that our culture tends to regard as more "masculine" than "feminine." It’s important to realize that this has nothing to do with "transgenderism" or homosexuality. As a matter of fact, there are no replicated studies indicating that homosexuality is genetic in nature. 

If you have reason to believe that your daughter’s behaviour may reflect deeper and more serious psychological issues, we’d encourage you to have her evaluated by a professional counsellor. Focus on the Family Canada’s counselling department can provide you with a list of qualified therapists working in your area. They’d also be pleased to discuss the details of your situation with you over the phone. You can reach them Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800. 

How to alleviate your concerns

If, on the other hand, you are convinced that your daughter is just a normal tomboy, there are still some things you can do to help alleviate your concerns. While it’s great that she’s so close with her dad, it might be a good idea to have him back off a bit on the "buddy" relationship and encourage her to spend more time with you. The other side of the coin, of course, is finding creative ways to draw her closer to you. There’s an art to fostering a successful mother-daughter bond. Don’t try to force it, and don’t attempt to relate to her only by way of "girly" things. Instead, do your best to meet her where she is – even if that means being flexible enough to join her in the world of sports and outdoor activities. 

Most importantly, let your daughter know that you accept her for who she is and that you want to be a part of her life. Find activities that you both enjoy, even if they are not so-called "feminine" activities. She needs a warm, nurturing, available female role model, and God has called you to fill that position. If there are issues in your own background that prevent you from doing so, we’d recommend that you seek counselling yourself.

By the way, an excellent book on this topic is Anne Paulk’s Restoring Sexual Identity

© 2010 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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