This is about my 13-year-old son. He is sensitive, emotional and shy. He is good looking and from his childhood he has been teased about being like a girl. When he is feeling shy (like when going up on the stage to collect a prize), he walks swaying his hips like a girl, very different from the way he walks when is not feeling conscious. When he was in class VI or so, I caught him wearing lipstick, trying out my sandals, etc. He was very apologetic about it. Once he confided that he fears that he will become a girl. He cries inconsolably at this thought.

He’s a very mature child. He understands the nuances of our conversations. We are working parents and he spends most of his time with our pet dog and our stay-in maid. I am a bit worried, because if I approach some counsellor, he might think that I believe he has a problem. At the same time, I do want to give a justifiable ear to his issues. What do I do ?

First, you need to (you must be doing this, but you would need to reiterate it in words and attitudes regularly) communicate to your son that he will be loved regardless of anything.

Pet peeve: ‘Managing’ empathy.Photo :Thinkstock

Most importantly-and perhaps parents of all children at some stage should bring this up with their children when talking about sexuality, sexual leanings, etc.-the time has come for us to provide our children with a more amplified view of these things. This you can do by finding a way to communicate the following:

•Man and woman are two extremes of a continuum and in real life people exist all along that continuum

•A lot of people don’t know that and expect everyone to demonstrate their total manhood or womanhood

Once he understands and internalizes it and realizes that you believe it too, much of the impact of the teasing and the deep self-doubt and distress may recede. However, to impart this important learning to your son, it would be better if you could find different opportunities to communicate the same thing. To do this, you would need to find time to spend with him, one on one, at an activity that allows time to talk, perhaps every 10 days or so, or when he is particularly disturbed over this. You could do this together or separately, as parents. Find ways to work it in casually, and not have a very heavy sit-down discussion.

At 13, he may or may not yet have attractions towards other boys or girls. If at a later time he indicates or insinuates a preference, I would let him know that it’s okay, and these things too sometimes change from one to the other.

Since he seems quite overwrought with this issue, and it is not easy for you either to appropriately process and deal with whatever comes up in your discussions with him, perhaps you should consider meeting a counsellor. While initially he may be, as you indicate, a bit alarmed at this, you could put it to him that the perspective of another person would help you all to be happier and calmer.

As for dressing up like a girl-many, many boys have done this at some time in their lives, and you should tell him that. It’s just that very few may admit to having done it.

My 13-year-old daughter is an animal lover. She does not want a pet, she wants to adopt the whole animal world. Both my wife and I work, and my wife particularly does not want any animals in the home. However, our daughter comes home with puppies and kittens and even birds that need medical attention. We end up getting the vet or taking the creature to a shelter, or trying to find homes for them. Frankly we can’t cope but just don’t know how to stop this without it affecting her impulse to be kind? I must add that she is fearless, almost recklessly so, when handling these animals.

Well there’s one consolation-you don’t have to worry about what career path your child is going to take: Clearly, she is going to work with and for animals in some form! On top of it, you know that you have a child who is brimming with empathy. However, your discomfort is understandable, since you are the ones who have to willy-nilly become animal lovers and rescuers too.

You would need to channellize her feelings in some way-perhaps by having her volunteer at the local vet and/or at an animal shelter/rescue organization. Explain to her that she’ll be much more effective this way. She also does need to see that her mother has a right not to have to do all this accommodation-understanding a child’s emotional leanings? is one thing and being stuck with the end-result of them is another.

Once your daughter starts volunteering, she will be also able to see how people in such fields “manage" their emotions, and don’t have only a sentimental response to the situation. She will see how they’re much more effective by being slightly detached but more responsible. Impulsive emotional responses at all times ends up derailing some people and they become less effective towards the very creatures they want to save. It’s not an easy distinction for an animal lover of her age, but it will seep in.

Second, she does need to accept the fact that her mother is busy and does not have the same intense engagement with the needy animal world as she herself has. Perhaps this is a good time to come up with a discussion about the “rights" of everyone in the household. Of course, you would need to allow the occasional waif and foundling into your home. Provided your daughter has a good enough reason as to why it needs to be there and a plan about where and how soon it will be taken to a shelter or a home found for it.

Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting

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