When a child is already in development, like in the beginning stages of infancy or early childhood, that is when changes in behavior and expression can be most interesting and confusing.
These changes in behavior and expression can be signs of developing a gender schema. A gender schema is a way of understanding the world around you by using labels. For example, people use the term “man” to describe someone who is perceived as being aggressive and “woman” to describe someone who is perceived as being passive.
A child may have a very clear gender schema, but it may not match what they see around them. For example, they may believe they are male but see other people acting masculine, looking masculine, and dressing masculine. They may also believe they are female but see others being femininely dressed or acting feminine.
This article will talk about how important it is for children to learn about themselves through words and phrases, how to determine if a child has a gender schema, and what steps can be taken to help them grow into healthy individuals.
Developing an understanding of their own gender
For children who are developing a gender schema, understanding their expectations around gender and sexuality is important.
This happens in preschool and school age years. A child who is familiar with the idea of being a boy or a girl but not yet aware of how they feel about both sides of the gender identity spectrum is beneficial.
By having these expectations before development occurs, they can be addressed easily. For example, if a child thinks they are a boy, they can go to the bathroom alone or by recognizing something else as the same sex.
But what happens when this child finds out that they don’t feel like a boy and don’t want to be thought of as a girl? At this point, it would be beneficial for them to have awareness about their own body and what makes them feel like a specific sex.
Expressing preferences for certain toys, clothes, and colors
When a child is in the development stage where preferences are being expressed, toys, clothes, and colors are being used to determine what type of person they think they are.
This is known as a gender schema. A gender schema is the way you think and organize things based on your gender. For example, you may think that boys likeomething else than girls like toys that look more expensive, have colorful patterns, and are packaged in boxes.
A lot of children who do not reach typical development do so by using toy companies and products as resources. They look up reviews and others’ experiences with each product so that they can find something that looks and feels similar to what they want.
Possible behavior changes include:
A child whose schema is binary (boy or girl) may be at risk for social, developmental, and emotional difficulties when the boy or girl in their family does not match up with the boy or girl in their schema.
Binary schemas are folk beliefs that are based on material reality, but which do not reflect modern society. For example, in some communities, women were considered sacred figures and were allowed to rule rather than being governed by a man.
Binary gender schemas can emerge in children as they learn about the world around them. When these patterns of perception do not align with what they see around them, they can feel like there is something wrong with them and what they see.
This can lead to feelings of shame, fear, secrecy, and/orortsession of self.
Talk with your child about their interests and reactions
When a preschooler or early adolescence is developing a gender schema, it’s important to talk to them about it.
Schemas are organized thoughts and experiences that move through someone’s life in one way or another. For young children, they’re often patterns of behavior that reflect the adult’s expectations of them.
For example, a child who believes she is a boy may enjoy things that call for and wear male clothing. A child who believes he is a girl may enjoy things that call for and wear female clothing.
If a child is already aware of their own identity (self-identity) margins (i.e., how much what feels like “most people” don’t match what they feel is “the most people”), then the conversation about the gender schema is less likely to be confusing or disruptive.
However, if this conversation needs to happen, then it needs to happen now. Early childhood professionals have found that preschoolers and early adolescents are highly reactive to changes in society, which makes talking about the schema an insecure moment.
Help them understand their gender identity
When a child is between two or three years old and is developing a gender schema, there are some things that parents should watch for.
Many children enjoy playing with both boys and girls toys at this age. However, they may still prefer the toy that corresponds to their own inner self over one for children with the same gender identity.
The child may also prefer playing with other children of the same gender than their own family. This is normal and not a problem. If there are other people in your family who do not seem convinced of your child’s identity, this may be the reason why they play with them rather than someone who shares their internal self with them.
A third thing that parents need to watch for is whether or not their child shares toys or sets. If they do, then they may be saving one type of toy for ones that match their internal self, but turning away from those sets when others need it.
Support your child no matter what their identity is
When a preschooler or young child is developing a gender schema, they may feel pressure to participate in certain ways and/or perceive the world and people around them as being divided into boy things and girl things.
This can happen to any child, but especially when he or she is exploring their body and how it functions. A lot of children are drawn to the medical community and medicine in general, so medical matters are very common in childhood.
If your child is already feeling pressure to conform to a particular gender role, then the best way to help him or her is by supporting his or her sense of self. Say something if you’re going out, don’t make an effort if you’re staying at home watching TV or playing with your dog.
The more private and self-directed they can be, the better for them. You also need to recognize that your child is different from others of their age and needs different solutions for happiness.
Know the signs of possible transgender identity
One sign of possible transgender identity is a child who has a gender schema that includes both sexes. For example, they believe that humans are mainly either boys or girls and that toilet use is for them alone
They may occupy a special place in the bathroom or other private area with toys and things. They may observe others in the bathroom or other private area with water treatment devices in place to prevent self-harm.
These children may also have a belief system and way of thinking that do not match the sex they were assigned at birth. These may be non-conventional beliefs and thoughts that need to be addressed.
BECT can occur in people who were born with one sex but who feel they are more comfortable in the opposite sex role Â« so much so, they transition. Or, it can happen to people who have always felt one but changed their identification as it grew up through life.
Seek help from a specialist
When a child is between infancy and childhood developmentally, such as in the preschool age range, there is a period of exploration called differentiation. During this time, many children develop internal (core) and external (cultural) gender schemas.
Gender adolescence occurs when children experiment with roles and differentiations and socially transitioning from one role to another. This happens for many reasons including growing wants, needs, and expressions.
When these changes occur for a child who has an internal gender schema, the child feels unstable or mismatched when they try to grasp what is different. The child may also feel like they do not “get” the new thing because they did not previously fit it into a “box” of what that was.
The child may also have theories about themselves that do not match up with their feelings or needs, which can make them feel like they are not good enough or successful in their goals.