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 lunch box. 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.
There is a strong case to be made for not having any commercial products on his lunch box and backpack, but his play preferences will surface, even if his folks suppress them on his clothing.
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 from other kids for the kind of lunch box he carries, then it is the other kids who have a big problem and the school should intervene.
Dear Amy: I've known my friend a long time. She is kind and humorous, but has strong "anti" opinions about some things (she is conservative and I am liberal).
I know that she won't change her opinions (she is also very religious).
If anyone else was bashing or arguing about those topics, I would stand up and give my fair share of opinion. With her I find myself staying quiet and letting her rant.
When she leaves I feel guilty for not saying something. We soon won't be seeing a lot of each other. I don't know whether I should continue with the friendship or let it drop off gradually? Or is there a way I can get her to stop bashing?
Dear Likable Liberal
Dear Likable: Maybe you stay quiet because you're thoughtful and don't want to be shouted at.
Realistically, your friend will not adopt another viewpoint. But I do know this: She absolutely won't change if nobody asks her to behave differently.
You should say to her, "I don't expect you to change your views, but your negativity is very challenging for me. You seem so angry and I find it hard to respond."
Dear Amy: The letter from "Wrongly Accused," whose parents were furious about a scratch on her car, reminded me of another parent years ago.
My best friend and I dated twin brothers in high school. When we four would take the family car, I remember their father sending us off, saying, "Drive carefully now. I don't care what happens to the car, but I don't want you kids to get a scratch."
— Old Timer
Dear OT: I think it's a universal concern, but many parents don't express it so well.