A mom wrote to the parenting forum Mumsnet, wondering how to navigate her young son’s choice to dress up for a “fairytale theme fancy dress” day at school. Like all parents, the mom wants to protect her son from potentially being teased, but she also doesn’t want to quash his spirit.
The mom’s 5-year-old son wants to dress up as Cinderella, but she’s worried about how other kids will react.
She explained that she “doesn’t have a problem” with him dressing up like a princess, she just doesn’t want him to be made fun of for dressing like a female character.
The responses in the comments section were divided between those who thought kids were mostly tolerant and accepting, and those who thought kids tended towards being mean to anyone showing up differently.
One person gave sage guidance, noting that it’s important to teach boys that wearing dresses is okay — and if he’s teased, that, too, is a teachable moment. They explained that while some people are narrow-minded, equating clothes and gender, others understand that dressing up doesn’t rigidly reflect someone’s gender identity.
Parents can’t always protect their kids from harm, no matter how deeply they want to do so. Of course, no one should ever be made to feel less than anyone else because of how they choose to express themselves, yet stopping them from that form of expression might not be the right way to go about it, either.
Photo: Ksenia Chernaya / Pexels
One person posed the issue at hand in the form of a question: “Are you stopping him from doing other stuff because of what people might say? If so, what do you think that teaches him?”
The mom hoped to protect her son from potential bullying, but sometimes, kids have to learn to exist in discomfort, and through that discomfort, they grow.
There’s a great strength to be found in a child expressing themselves exactly how they want to. If the mom’s son wants to dress up like a princess, allowing him to do so would signify unwavering acceptance of how he wants to present himself, which is exactly the kind of support kids need from their families.
Jennifer Johnson, the founder of The Child Safety Collaborative, shared a video to guide parents in helping their children cope with being bullied.
She explained that bullying relies on an imbalance of power, yet there’s a difference between being repeatedly bullied and being in a single challenging situation. Either way, being teased proves to be a complex and difficult experience for kids to navigate.
Johnson advises parents to show empathy to their child who’s being teased and help them understand that their feelings have value. She also offered a strategy to build up kids’ confidence, by disregarding and letting go of untrue statements and reinforcing real, positive aspects of their personalities.
The mom’s instinct to protect her son from being hurt in the future comes from a place of compassion, yet denying him the chance to dress up how he wants also could be hurtful to him. Allowing him space to express himself is important.
The mom can show up for her son by letting him be his fullest self and welcoming him home with a warm embrace, even if he does end up being teased for who wants to be.
Alexandra Blogier is a writer on YourTango’s news and entertainment team. She covers parenting issues, pop culture analysis and all things to do with the entertainment industry.