- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 15, 2005

My husband is concerned that our 8-year-old son prefers imaginative play over playing catch or shooting hoops. He is an excellent student and is reasonably well-behaved.

Though his friends at school are boys, at home he plays with two neighbor girls, ages 8 and 10. Together, they pretend they are acting in “Star Wars” movies or are detectives trying to solve a mystery — that sort of thing.

Also, should I be concerned about hand-flapping when he gets excited about something or sees someone he is happy to see? Those are, by the way, the only times I’ve seen the hand-flapping.

A: Your husband is worried about your son’s sexuality, isn’t he? Well, please tell Mr. Worry Wart that playing with girls does not compromise a boy’s gender identity and that preferring imaginative play over sports is rather refreshing. In that regard, I finally can stop my search for a young boy who has refused to submit to his father’s driving need to see him excel on the athletic field.

I do believe — and this is sad to say — that having one’s son involved in sports from an early age has become the way many of today’s dads demonstrate their commitment to fatherhood and, furthermore, to instilling masculine ideals in their sons. Even sadder, I think many a dad feels his own masculinity is confirmed by a son who excels in sports.

In this context, many a dad would be highly threatened by the imagined implications of a boy who shows no interest in sports, much less successfully resists his dad’s efforts to mold him into a stereotype of masculinity. Please, as you are doing home-therapy on your hubby, be sure also to tell him that “masculine” and “athlete” are not synonymous. Lance Armstrong is no more a man than Harry Connick Jr.

As for the hand-flapping, though it is true that this is one of many possible symptoms of autism and childhood schizophrenia, it is axiomatic that one symptom does not a diagnosis make. Plenty of people, in fact, exhibit isolated symptoms of various mental disorders. Very few people, relatively speaking, actually have a full-blown mental disorder.

A good friend of mine, when she was a child (and I knew her fairly well then, too), was given to hand-flapping when she was excited about something. Today, she is a charming, intelligent human being and no longer flaps her hands — unless, that is, someone like myself asks her to play the “human castanets,” to which she gracefully and humorously consents. This skill has come in very handy at office parties and family reunions. She assures me, by the way, that these outbursts are no longer as spontaneous and ill-timed as was once the case.

Whereas I would advise you not to do anything that might make your son feel there is something “wrong” with hand-flapping, I would suggest that you tell him that the older he gets, the more likely it is other children will misjudge and make fun of his talent.

In that regard, I would certainly advise him to be more circumspect where demonstrations of hand-flapping are concerned. Assure him, by the way, that taking this “underground” will only be temporary. In college, he’ll be a big hit at fraternity parties, and somewhat later, he even might find that various contemporary musical groups become interested in his unique percussive abilities.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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