I am the mother of an eight-year-old girl. My daughter has one male cousin, who is a year older. She spends a lot of her time with him. Her conversations are all about this cousin and she includes him in her dreams and imaginary games as well. When she watches a movie, she places this boy as the hero and herself as his counterpart. Recently I found her drawing a family consisting of him as the husband and herself as the wife. How do I change my daughter’s concept?
You could simply ignore this, as she is bound to outgrow the idea. You don’t need to actively change her concept, really. At her age, she is becoming aware of relationships, and the model in front of her on a daily basis is the husband-wife duo. And her cousin becomes the most likely to be assigned the role of husband. What you could do, without making a big fuss about it, is that you could casually mention to your daughter that her husband is someone she will meet later, and that her cousin will not be her husband. Assure her that her cousin and she will always love each other, but in a different way. This is a little difficult to communicate fully to an eight-year-old, but you could do it by giving her examples of brother-sister relationships in your family and around you—between grown brothers and sisters and cousins.
Model roles: Assigning roles to real and imaginary peers is a part of growing up
Are the two of them playing unsupervised a lot? Do look out for inappropriate touching and explorations of bodies or talk about private parts, etc. I am not saying that this is definitely happening, but it would be a good idea to listen in or watch out for any such signs. If you do find any of that going on, do not make a big fuss, making them feel guilty and rejected. Simply “dismantle” this kind of play by explaining to them that it is not appropriate, and then do not let them play together unsupervised for long stretches.
Meanwhile, you can also perhaps broaden her interactions by having her join a play group, or some kind of pursuit such as dance, gymnastics, or craft, or whatever you think she is inclined towards, so that she is not playing exclusively with her cousin. As part of the task of broadening her canvas, you could also, if she is an imaginative child and likes play-acting, get her, the cousin and maybe a few other friends, to do little skits or plays in which there are no gender and partner stereotypes. Your local library or the Internet will provide plenty of fun subjects.
All said and done, this is not something you should worry about too much and discuss too heavily with your daughter. You do not want a situation where her interaction with her cousin is blown out of proportion, and turns into a guilt-inducing or forbidden activity. It’s better to be careful and subtle, and find ways to bring in new elements to her play—more children as well as different subjects or areas of play.
Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting.
Send in your queries to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org