One of my son’s favorite toys is a pink fairy house that lights up and plays music. The toy doesn’t belong to him, but whenever he gets into his sister’s room, he goes right for it. Does this alarm us? No. Two-year-olds like bright colors, flashing lights and lots of noise. Our son has no idea that this is a girl’s toy.
Children today have an amazing array of academic, athletic and creative interests that venture outside of traditionally held roles and expectations. A cousin’s son loves to cook. My niece plays rugby. Many of the old fault lines of what society deemed “gender appropriate” have broken down.
However, many in our culture are now teaching that biology is irrelevant. Creating equal opportunities is one thing, but intentionally blurring the real differences between boys and girls is harmful to children who need social cues to understand themselves and their role in the world.
A person’s sexual identity is a biological fact. In our fallen world, there are rare biological distortions where a child’s sexual organs don’t develop properly. But far more common than a physical anomaly is the confusion a child may feel about who he is and how he is supposed to live in the world. A person’s sense of self — who we understand ourselves to be — is constantly changing.
As parents, our job is to help our children develop a healthy understanding of their sexuality and identity. This task goes well beyond the toys our children play with or what extracurricular activities they join; it harkens back to God’s original plan.
In the beginning
Some researchers believe that the greater part of a child’s personality is developed by the time he reaches preschool, while his sense of self will continue to develop throughout his life. The toddler years are a great time to lay a solid foundation for what it means to be a boy or girl. The Creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 are important enough that Jesus highlighted them in Matthew 19, explaining that God’s plan from the beginning should guide our understanding of the world.
We read in Genesis 1:26-28 that God made humans in His image and likeness, as male and female. There are only two biological sexes. Telling your child, “You are a boy,” or “God made you a girl,” affirms God’s plan. You can also help your children build healthy identities by reinforcing their resemblance to their mother or father.
During a diaper change, my son’s hand may touch himself as he asks, “What’s that?” It’s natural to respond, “That’s your penis. You are a boy. Daddy is a boy, too.” It was just as easy to explain to my young daughters that they are girls, who physically resemble Mommy. Kids don’t find these situations uncomfortable.
We also read in Genesis 2 that men and women are made for each other. Our individualistic culture views a person’s self-determination as the highest social good, but in God’s plan, men and women complement each other, and family is the center of culture. As our children grow, we can reinforce God’s intentionality in making them a boy or a girl and explain that both male and female are needed to create a family.
Affection is key
Perhaps the greatest gift parents can give their children at all ages is unconditional love and acceptance. Showing affection to your child does more than affirm her place in the world. It also demonstrates through concrete actions the distinctions between men and women.
Research has shown that a poor emotional bond with parents influences gender confusion. When boys aren’t affirmed in their masculine identity and aren’t shown what it means to be a man, they suffer a soul-hunger for masculinity that can become sexualized in adolescence. Likewise, when young girls are confused about what it means to be female, their hunger can drive them toward other girls in unhealthy ways.
As children grow up, they are seeking social cues to explain how the world works and how they fit within it. The great news for parents is that simply spending time with your children provides them with these necessary social cues. They learn healthy attachment patterns and observe a real-world man or woman at work.
Men and women — both — bear the image of God and express love, serve others and demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit, but we do so in uniquely masculine and feminine ways. This can’t be explained to young children as much as shown.
Opposite-sex parents also play a critical role in a child’s development. Like it or not, we often serve as a model for a future spouse by helping our child form their opposite-sex love templates. Girls who feel loved by their fathers are less likely to seek affirmation in unhealthy ways in adolescence and adulthood. And boys who are affirmed and respected by their mothers are less likely to engage in casual sexual behavior.
Even though we need not be overly concerned if our children show interest in atypical activities for their gender, we also don’t want to introduce confusing messages into their lives. Allowing our son to play with his sister’s dolls is different than buying him a Barbie Dreamhouse and only playing with him when he plays with it. We can encourage a daughter who wants to play hockey, but we shouldn’t force her into it if she isn’t interested.
Every day we have opportunities to reinforce to our children a sense of wonder and respect for God’s order of the world. One of the most important parts of God’s order is our creation as male and female. Combining the truth about God’s plan for our children with unconditional love for the unique person that God has made them to be, will help them grow in wisdom and knowledge of their identity and of the Lord.
Let‘s talk about it
When talking about God’s plan for your children’s sexual identity, consider using these as talking points:
God made boys and girls. Take a few moments to read and discuss Genesis 1:27. Then explain that God created men, women and children to form a complete picture of who God is.
Boys and girls are different. God created men and women to be different from one another. Talk about some of the differences that you and your children have noticed.
God created men and women to need each other. Read Genesis 2:18. God knew that Adam would be lonely by himself, so He created Eve. God made both genders to complement each other and so we could have families. Men and women are both needed to start a family.
God has a plan for boys and girls. God has a good plan in creating your children to be boys or girls. When God created them, He was very careful to make them as boys and girls. He knew just who they were supposed to be and has a plan for them.