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You Heard Me, My Boy Likes Dolls

My 5-year-old loves My Little Pony. The beautiful ponies, each a different color of the rainbow, teach the message of friendship and how we should be good to each other. I think My Little Pony is great. I even bought my 5-year-old a Twilight Sparkle toy to play with.

But not everyone thinks that I should allow my child to play with a sparkly purple My Little Pony doll.

Because my child is a boy.

RELATED: My Son Wants a Sparkly, Purple My Little Pony

Child development experts say that curiosity over sex-stereotyped toys is perfectly normal in school-aged children. And the importance of play for a child cannot be overstated. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “[p]lay is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.”

But, what if your son is expressing an interest in playing with “girl” things?

1. Let your child experiment

“It’s quite normal for young children to express an interest, and even occasionally a preference, for games, activities and objects associated with a different sex,” according to Stuart Altman, MD, a pediatrician in private practice on the North Shore of Long Island, and the author of "The Kidfixer Baby Book: An Easy-to-Use Guide to Your Baby’s First Year."

So, allow your children to be whoever they are. Experimentation through play is a good thing. Even if that means letting your boys play with “girl” toys and vice versa.

2. Encourage creativity

Remember "Free to be You and Me"? William wanted a doll, and no one knew what to make of it. But in the end, it was determined that playing with dolls might make William a more empathetic person and a great dad in the future. Similarly, letting a girl get messy every once in a while could be a good activity for her — typical “girl” activities are very sedentary (playing with dolls, hosting a tea party, coloring), so running around outside might be a nice change.

“Boys often like to play with 'girl toys.' Girls often would rather play baseball than play with dolls. This is both normal and perfectly fine,” Dr. Altman explains.

3. It’s not an indicator of future sexual preference

If your little boy is curious about “girl” activities, this is not an indicator of future sexual preference. It’s more an indicator that you have provided an open and loving environment, one in which they feel free to try lots of new things.

By age 3, children have developed strong gender identities and have learned gender role behavior, but that doesn’t mean that a boy won’t be curious about princesses and fairies; that doesn’t mean a girl won’t want to play with cars and trucks.

Or, you can do what I did this summer, when a woman my mother’s age told me that my child was getting filthy at the beach: smile broadly and then ignore and walk away.

“In any case,” Dr. Altman explains, “attempting to steer a child toward activities traditionally seen as 'sex-appropriate' is futile. The fact is that sexual orientation is determined at birth. As the song says, we’re 'born this way.'”

Your children are who they are. Depriving boys of dolls or girls of sports isn’t going to change who they truly are at their core. So let your kids play and have fun. Most of all, just love them for who they are.

4. Deal with comments from others with humor and grace

Strangers love to comment on our parenting, don’t they? Even friends and family members do it, under the auspice of helping. Deal with this situation just like you would any other: with humor and grace. When granddad asks if you’re going to let your son wear his cousin’s princess shoes, smile widely and reply, “Well, yes! Of course I’m going to! You let me ride bikes with the boys every afternoon and look at how great I turned out!” When another mom on the playground asks if you’re going to let your daughter play in the dirt with the boys, you can laugh along with her and say, “When I was a kid, I loved playing in the mud. Too bad it’s not acceptable to do that as an adult.” Or, you can do what I did this summer, when a woman my mother’s age told me that my child was getting filthy at the beach: smile broadly and then ignore and walk away.

If your child is confronted with comments from his peers? Just tell your son or daughter to deal with it the way you would a bully: confront it head on. If your child’s friend says, “You’re going to play with that?” your child can simply say, “Yes, I am,” and either walk away or invite the other child to join in.

Remind your child that if he or she is being bullied, he or she should always tell a grown-up.

RELATED: 5 Ways to Handle It When Strangers Comment On Your Parenting

5. Consult an expert

If you still have serious concerns about your child’s gender identity, emotional development or peer interactions, talk to your pediatrician or a developmental expert. They are there to help.

Most of all, remember what my mother always told me: no child was ever ruined by too much love and acceptance.

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