Q: My 7-year-old wears blue jeans and T-shirts, and keeps her hair very short for sports. People sometimes mistake her for a boy, and she gets very upset by that. She wants people to know she's a girl, but she wants to be herself and be comfortable in the clothing she chooses. I would appreciate any ideas.
-- Diane O'Pry, Marietta, Ga.
A: Here are some ideas from readers: * "I had the same problem when my 10-year-old was younger," says Mary Baranowski of Arlington Heights, Ill. "The first thing we did was to get her ears pierced. It made a huge difference. Nobody for another moment thought she was boy."
* "A pale pink nail polish would go very far to identify her as a little girl," says Eileen Falk of Mount Prospect, Ill.
* "If she'll wear a baseball cap, get her one with a floral print," says Keri Gentile of Dallas, Texas.
* "Take her comfortable old jeans and T-shirts and fancy them up to her liking using fabric paint, glue-on jewels and sequins, appliques, buttons and bows," advises Margaret Bennett of Rocky Mount, N.C.
Wende Gates, author of "Bringing Out Their Best, A Parent's Guide to Healthy Good Looks for Every Child" (Bantam, $17.50, $19.50 Canada), suggests the problem is more the girl's hair than her clothes.
"Have the hairdresser suggest something that is easy to care for but also feminine," says Ms. Gates, a former editor at both Glamour and Vogue magazines.
The girl's immediate problem is her embarrassment.
"Help your daughter think about some things she can say when people mistake her for a boy, like a joke or a pat line, so she has something to do with her embarrassment," says Mary Pipher, author of "Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls" (Ballantine, $12.50, $17.50 Canada).
A psychologist who studies gender roles and children says the pressure to conform to society's accepted sex roles will only increase in the next couple of years.
"Between the ages of about 7 and 10, children separate into same-sex peer groups, and there's a lot of pressure to conform," says Paul Jose, a psychology professor at Loyola University Chicago. "This has been documented around the world in every culture. This is the stage when boys say girls are yucky, and girls stereotype boys as being aggressive and rude."
It may also help your daughter's self-esteem to surround herself with girls who have similar interests.
"Encourage her to join a league or team so she will be with other girls who have similar taste in clothes and hair," says Kathy Voss, a reader from Ransomvile, N.Y.
"She'll be able to see what other girls like her wear, and as a mother, you can exchange ideas with other mothers of tomboys. You'll find yours is not so out of place."
"A tomboy is free from stereotypical behavior and knows how to enjoy herself," says Patricia Yohe of Wheeling, Ill. "The ability to play with boys as well as girls builds a strong foundation for the future in business and personal relationships."