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All He Wants For Christmas Is A Princess Toy

All He Wants For Christmas Is A Princess Toy

By Amalah

Thanks for considering this question. My 7 year old nephew has been asking (literally crying) for pink and sparkly princess toys. He lives in a politically conservative, evangelical Christian family, with his mother, her parents, and his older sister. When he asks to play with his sister’s “girl” toys his mother gently redirects him to “boy” toys, his older sister has been highly outspoken and viciously negative, and his grandfather (who has recently moved in) would likely respond with confusion and probably some disgust. He lives in a small home, shares a bedroom with his sister, and wouldn’t have the space to play without being observed. His sister is allowed to play with his toys, which is an upsetting double standard for my nephew.

My nephew’s birthday is at Christmas time so I’ll be buying him two gifts. Do I get him some princess toys? I don’t know what would be worse for him– not having pink and sparkly toys or the reaction of his family if he were to receive them and then want to play with them.

OUCH. This letter hurts to read. Hey parents? Please don’t be These Parents.

This is a super tough situation (DUH), because you are correct: It’s not as simple as just buying the poor kid the toy he wants. He’s living with — essentially — a built-in set of bullies who might shame or humiliate him, or take the toy away as soon as you leave.

You don’t mention your relation to his mother, or whether there’s ANY chance you two could have a nice heart-to-heart about this: The double standard with the sister’s play choices, the outdated ideas about masculinity (and I’m going to guess a feared [for her] correlation between toy choices and sexual orientation), and the casual cruelty of telling a child that there’s something wrong with him for simply wanting to play with with a human-shaped doll as opposed to a anthropomorphic truck with eyeballs.

Or in place of a nice heart-to-heart, a simple, “Dude. Chill out. It’s a hunk of plastic. Let the kid be.”

The real solution to this dilemma sadly requires change/education/open-mindedness on the part of his family, which you can’t make happen via a toy store purchase. What I’d encourage you to do is to think long term, and what kind of role you can play in this little boy’s life. Can you provide a judgment free zone for him? Take him to see the princess movies? Have both of the children over and have princess toys on hand, and calmly inform your niece that the “rules” in YOUR house are that everyone can play with whatever they like, and that nothing you have is a “boy” toy or a “girl” toy? They’re “everybody” toys! Let’s all play together!

I worry about your nephew, as I’m sure you do. Today it’s princess toys, tomorrow it could something else that’s outside his family’s gender expectations. Or even if he loses interest in the pink and sparkly, that the damage will already be done — that he’ll feel ashamed of liking what he likes, and attempt to change himself to fit in or avoid being judged or bullied. I hope you can find a way to be there for him, to be his cheerleader and his unconditionally accepting advocate, however and whenever you are able. Even if you can’t solve his Christmas morning, you have the potential to play an important and much-needed role for him, simply by letting him know you love and accept him, NO MATTER WHAT. The family he lives with are supposed to do that, and clearly don’t care or understand that they are kind of sucking at it, no matter how “gently” they redirect him back to what they’ve deemed “acceptable.”

As for this Christmas, I’d probably find out what his favorite “princess” movie or show is, and buy him a “complete” set of the characters — males included. Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Sven, Hans AND Olaf. Beauty AND the Beast. Rapunzel AND Flynn. Sofia the First’s full family, along with her brother. He likes the movie or show, so of course he needs all the characters to properly act it out. Just like you need a Lightning McQueen and a Mater AND a Sally to act out Cars. No big deal, Family, nothing to see here.

Then get down on the floor with him and play princesses to your hearts’ content.


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Claire

    December 10, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    I have in laws like this. No tea sets, play kitchen things, pink toys because they’re ‘girl’ toys. No whining ‘like a girl’. Mostly it’s the father but argh, it makes me angry. I ended up telling him to back off a few weeks ago because my son was playing with a tiara, wanted it putting on and then asked his Aunty to take pictures of him. He’s two. My BIL told him not to and tried to stop him. We told him where to stick it.

    Amy’s advice is spot on. Give him the full sets, take him out, bring him to you and let it be ok, let you be his safe place. You’re an awesome Aunty for thinking like this 🙂

  • Kacie

    December 10, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    Reminds me of the storybook ‘Williams doll’ where William wanted a doll and his brother teased him. Grandma got him the doll and was like, how else is he going to learn how to be a gentle daddy? I forget the words but it was great.

    Might be good gift to accompany another item.

    • heidi

      December 11, 2014 at 11:41 am

      It’s from “Free to Be You and Me” 

      • Kate

        December 11, 2014 at 5:09 pm

        I think it was a book first and then it became a song in “Free to be You and Me.”

  • Holly

    December 10, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Makes me think of a meme I saw with a picture of a yolked out action figure like He-Man, and then a scantily clad Barbie doll. And it said something like, “really? a boy playing with a nearly naked man makes him ‘straight’ and playing with a lingerie glad ‘hot’ girl makes him ‘gay’?” Funny, but also a true statement for a lot of people. How did society come up with these norms anyway? Toys are TOYS.

    • Mindy

      December 13, 2014 at 1:50 pm

      I LOVED the “Free to be You and Me” album as a child. I can sing most of the songs word for word. William’s Doll was one of my favorites!

      I was going to type the lyrics here, but I found them online, and that seems a little less freakish. 😉

  • Ellie

    December 10, 2014 at 10:14 pm

    If all else fails and you live close enough for him to be over regularly, you could do a “this is yours but it has to stay here (at your house)” kind of thing.

  • Emily

    December 11, 2014 at 1:10 am

    As the parent of a gender non-conforming child this breaks my heart. I am in large support group with other parents and their gender non-conforming children and I have a lot of experience in this area. A few thoughts:

    A seven year old boy who is asking and crying for sparkly pink princess toys is definitely exhibiting gender non-conforming behavior. In a two year old – this is not a big deal – in a seven year old this means more is going on with him. A seven year old understands what society “expects” of him and if he is going against that then he is truly passionate about his desires and it is more than just simple experimentation. In a family and community that is not supportive of this behavior giving him a toy that is pink or sparkly or princess-y could be downright dangerous. I know you want to help and support your nephew but giving a toy that could get him verbally or physically abused for playing with is not a solution. Please please please don’t do it. Giving him a toy that his sister will tease him for or his mother will take away or his grandfather will be “disgusted” by is far worse than giving him nothing at all. I know Amy was trying to find a neutral ground with her suggestion, but it isn’t neutral. He won’t see it that way – he will see it as princesses and I doubt his family will see it that way either. I have seen little kids who are literally suicidal over their desires being quashed by their parents and those around them. Every little negative comment, every little tease breaks down their self-esteem into nothing. Don’t set him up for that.

    This boy and his family need serious help. Please think about talking to whomever in this family you are close to. Also, you can talk to your nephew privately and let him know that you are a “safe” person to talk to about his feelings. There are lots of resources to help families in this situation. Many areas now have support groups. Please feel free to email me privately and I can pass some of those on to you.

    As for Christmas, I wouldn’t get him a “boy” toy either. Try something gender neutral such as a fun book or game or great arts and crafts supplies.

    Good luck to you and your nephew.

  • Melinda

    December 11, 2014 at 11:26 am

    Here’s a set that has all the frozen characters in it and pretty much no pink- might be better accepted:

    Maybe if you take these out of the box it comes in and put it in a traditional “boy” looking wooden box with Olaf or something painted on it? 

    Poor thing. It sucks for both kids to be growing up in a home that squashes them into boxes. 🙁

  • Kay

    December 11, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    I’m going to second the above concerns about getting him a full set of Frozen characters (or similar).  Because, well.  A) It IS billed generally as a princess movie and B) even if he has all the characters, he’s going to WANT to play with the princess ones and there will be no place to hide it.  I just don’t see a family like this shrugging it off or seeing it as neutral, all the characters or no.  His family is very sensitized to him and his desire to play with “girl” toys.  They will not shrug it off.  At least, not after you leave.  Get him something really gender neutral, not pseudo gender neutral.  

    That said, I am one hundred percent behind finding ways to let him know you love him and accept him unconditionally and not there are people who don’t divide the world into “boy” and “girl” in the way his family does.  

    This is so tricky.  Very best wishes figuring it out.  

  • Kim too

    December 11, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    Heart is breaking.  Poor little dude.

    I think the absolute best thing you can do is offer him a safe haven. Think experiences, and lots of them.  Be the adult he can trust.  Take him to see the movies he wants to see.  Hell, you can do that with his sister, or you can take both of them out, and go see “boy” movies, too. Arrgh. And yes, if you can swing it, have some toys he can play with at your house.

    So, so sad.

  • CeeBee

    December 12, 2014 at 2:14 am

    I think you should consider calling his school’s guidance counselor and alerting that person to your nephew’s family situation and making sure who called is kept confidential. Your nephew needs more than dolls/action figures and I think it would be best try to help him out anonymously so you can keep an eye on things. If you have dolls at your house for him to play with, either his sister will squeal, or he will tell his parents what’s up and then you won’t be allowed contact with him. They seriously sound like those type of people. And quite frankly is 20mothereffing14, whatever parent thinks that shaming their child over anything is a way to get a behavioral change, has their head up their ass.

  • Sarah

    December 12, 2014 at 6:31 am

    Wow. I am so disappointed in this comment thread. There are a LOT of assumptions being made based on the description “politically conservative, evangelical Christian” here, when the only non-speculative behavior mentioned was (ignoring completely the reactions of the sibling because, hello, children) “gentle redirection”. JesUS. As a gender nonconforming liberal bisexual, I’m as primed to fight for this kid as anyone. But as a parent, I am horrified you all are so ready to usurp a parent’s right to parent their child. When my daughter was two, I was told by inlaws that she was being “deprived” because I didn’t want them to buy her full length Disney movies for Christmas, and by Easter, they had sent her a DVD of some TV show which she unwrapped and then I was put in the position of having to “put away til she’s older” and then “gently redirect” her to something more appropriate to her age and, yes, my socio-political sensibilities (did not like the description of the episode dealing with girls giving each other make-overs and boys disrupting their play blah-blah-blah). She was two, he’s seven, and I may have a Masters in Ed, the screen-time recommendations of my state, and a whole pile of research on my side, but the principal is the same. They were judging, and deeming my culture inappropriate (nay, “DEPRIVED”) when instead they could have talked to me about their concerns and I could have explained my own. Like, you know, adults. For all I know, this kid’s mother is legitimately worried for her son’s physical well being in an area of the country that’s less accommodating of boys who like princess dolls than this nice liberal bubble here. I DON’T KNOW, because I do not have all (I barely have any) of the information, the background, here. MAYBE the OP and the child’s mother both actually love this child and want what’s best for him. I mean, maybe they don’t, but I’d be inclined to make THAT assumption first, and start a conversation there…?

    • vanessa

      December 13, 2014 at 2:07 am

      What on earth makes you think that people who love their children cannot also fuck them up very, very badly? These parents might well believe that they are doing the right thing by sending messages, implicit or explicit, that their child’s desires are wrong. That message is incredibly dangerous. It is unpardonably naive to assume otherwise.

      OP, I agree with those who wouldn’t buy this poor kiddo anything for his house (if you live close, I would get him toys for your house). It’s just setting him up for more dangerous messages, and potentially worse. If you are at all close to the mother, I might try to talk to her, possibly backed up with stats. However, this could backfire, so you will have to navigate it really closely.

      Please come back and update us. And please watch your nephew carefully.

      • Sarah

        December 13, 2014 at 9:34 am

        Oh, honey, I DO know. And now you’re making assumptions about me, and I don’t appreciate it, or the name calling. But if the goal is to change behavior, to create understanding, then the approach here is wrong. Finding common ground (love for this child) is a move closer, to gain influence in this situation. Undermining a parents’ authority is a sure way to see that you lose any influence at all.

      • Sarah

        December 13, 2014 at 11:31 am

        Also… I mean… I just want everyone here to take a deep breath and decontextualize for a moment here. Imagine you found out an adult bought your kid things to play with “just at their house” and told your kid to “keep it a secret” and “not tell” you. What kind of assumption would you make then? How fast would you grab your kid and run?

        • vanessa

          December 13, 2014 at 12:25 pm

          I’m not calling you names.
          I suggested that the OP not get a princess gift and instead try to talk to the mother, so I’m not sure where we disagree on that. But it just seems silly to frame this as a parents rights issue when there is so much evidence that gender nonconforming kids have an incredibly difficult time. 

          • Sarah

            December 14, 2014 at 10:48 pm

            *Deep sigh* You know, it was probably “silly” and, really, “unpardonably naive” of me to posit, in a comment thread, that there might be more than one issue at play here, more one factor to consider on this or any matter, but I still hope this:

            If you come across this, or any kid who appears to be struggling with any nonconforming behavior, any issues with identity, or family, I beg you not to just rush out and do the easy thing, the thing that makes you feel better, even if it’s thing that he’s crying for, because that’s not what he, or any of them (us) need.

            OP: You’ll have to decide whether you want to or even can be a long term, stable, understanding adult in his life. If you can, then go talk to his mother. Scratch that. LISTEN to his mother. Tell her that he’s been asking (crying) for a princess doll, and make it clear you’re coming to her for advice, because she knows her child, has a better understanding about what this is about (whether you believe that to be true or not) and you don’t want to cause trouble for the family (think: boy). Without arguing your side (at all) try to figure out what about the issue is of concern to her, because this is the woman with the most influence and control in both this situation and all others as he grows and you’ll need that information to be of any help at all. Then see if there are any gender neutral toys (feels awkward just typing that) he also wants, or that she recommends, and get him those. Do what someone further down recommended and let him know, in your card, in writing, that you love him dearly, and that he’s special (not despite nor because he’s different, he just IS special, they all are), and that you’ll always love him and be there for him. Do this so that you CAN continue to be there for him for the next eleven years, when he might need you, your understanding, and your guidance more desperately than he needs you to take a quick stand on a piece of plastic. Good luck! And let us know how it goes.

            And now I’ll go back to rubbing my tummy and waiting for my now overdue baby boy to make his appearance. May I, and may everyone, do right by him.

            (Also, *principle. That’s been bugging me.)

  • PAtwin

    December 12, 2014 at 8:55 am

    What about a Lego Princess set?

  • S

    December 12, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    I have been in the situation above with in laws thinking my kids give my kids lots of DVDs thinking they were deprived of all the latest tv and videos. The parents do need some say. My daughter just got an outrageous amount of frozen stuff that she didn’t want. One gift would have been sufficient. The giver of the gift was a needy grandma that needs to give girl toys. On the flip side both sets of grandparents would never accept girl toys for a boy. When we’ll meaning people gave us more fashionable clothes or gifts not approved of, the gifts were donated or thrown out within the week, when I was growing up. So going against these parents could just make the situation worse for the child because my parents saw it as going against the cultural change. It was their calling to do it. On a positive note, I learned when to be myself and when to leave things alone. We write a thank you note for the gifts and redirect I’ll thought of gifts. My husband gets them what they want. I remember most the people who supported me and understood the predicament I was in. My mom came to a high school dance to watch after me and a teacher kindly got her busy helping. Some of those people I am friends with to this day.
    my daughter is currently playing with her train.

    • vanessa

      December 13, 2014 at 2:09 am

      Since there is no stigma attached to a girl liking Frozen. and definitely not a stigma that has led to bullying and suicide, your comparison is invalid.

  • KIm too

    December 13, 2014 at 11:44 pm

    The OP talks about a kid who is literally in tears, a sister who is vicious, and a grandfather who is likely to treat him with disgust, so it seems clear there is cause for concern.
    I was thinking about this more.  My neighbor signed some cards she sent to my girls with this last paragraph: “You are special. You are important. And I will always love you.”And I think that’s the OP’s gift to this kid, and his sister.  Get some sparkly Christmas cards and gender neutral gifts, and sign every letter from here on out with that message.  And every visit, whisper it in that boy’s ear.  Because, yes, he is loved, but he is not necessarily accepted.  Be the safe haven.

  • Annie

    December 30, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    OP here. Thanks to you all for your comments, and especially to Emily for her thoughtful, enlightening and sobering comment. After several talks, my husband and I decided to give my nephew a “Choose Your Own Adventure” birthday date from a menu of options in our awesome city. He was really cute and excited about it. We gave my nephew’s family one large Christmas gift they can enjoy together. At this time my sister in law isn’t interested in (or able to) have an authentic and honest conversation about what her children are going through, and their needs. Sadly, she is not interested in getting support for her family outside of what is offered at her church. My husband and I live in the same city, and will work at providing a haven for my nephew, including individual times he can spend with us, without his sister. We are trying to educate ourselves about what we can do to best help a child who has non-gender-conforming interests. Thank you again, Amy, for taking the time to read and respond to my letter.

  • vanessa

    January 10, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    Throwing out there that you need to be on top of this situation, especially given the recent story of a girl who jumped in front of a  truck. Her parents might as well have pushed her there.