Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR AMY: I have a 5-year-old nephew who is starting kindergarten. He is a fantastic little boy who likes "boy" things like cars, but he really likes many "girl" things like Barbies, Minnie Mouse and My Little Pony. He is the most interesting 5-year-old boy I know. When we were at the store he picked out a My Little Pony lunch box for school. His mom is worried he will get picked on, and so am I, but I am also concerned about sending the message that he should not be himself. I want him to love school, make friends, but not change who he is. The next thing to buy is the backpack. He will want something girlie, and mom feels she should steer him toward a plain backpack (no characters), which I know he won't like. The question I have for you and your readers is this: How do we encourage him to be himself and also try not to set him up to be picked on because he doesn't like traditional "boy" things?
-- Anxious Aunt
DEAR ANXIOUS: At 5 years old, your nephew has probably already had experiences on play dates or perhaps at preschool where he had to navigate around and through gender-based toys and play. You don't mention this has ever been a problem, and you should not have him starting kindergarten assuming this will become a problem.
If your nephew is the most interesting boy you know, there is a likelihood that he will always make choices that are outside the proverbial lunchbox. He will also get picked on at some point -- but clever, sensitive and creative people do get picked on, because being different riles people who want to bully others into their own comfort zone.
The kids who succeed through this are the kids who know they are awesome -- even if (and/or because) they are different.
His parents should let him make his own choices and stand in his corner as they help him navigate whatever consequences follow. If he gets heat for the lunch box he carries, then the school should intervene.
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