Q: Twice my 9 year old grandson has taken his mom’s underwear and hid them in his room. The first time she found them in his drawer when putting away his clean clothes. The second time, she noticed some were missing from her drawer and found them in a box with one of his favorite toys.
His mother is separated from his father. His father is not and has not been in his life for 5 or 6 years.
His older brother, 11 years old, has, ADHD, bipolar and conduct disorder. His younger brother, 6 years old, is hemiplegic and disabled.
His mother works and I watch the boys when she’s at work and they are not in school.
Is this something we should be concerned about. Or, should we not mention it directly to him but keep letting him know he can talk to either one of us about anything anytime?
By the way, this 9 year old does excellent in school, on the honor roll, and bilingual due to being in a dual language program.
I guess I just want to make sure this might just need to be watched but something that is not necessarily a problem.
A: Without talking to the boy, I can’t tell for sure what is going on but I can make a few guesses. It sounds like you have a very challenging household. Two of the children have significant problems and the kids’ dad left shortly after the youngest was born, leaving the women to cope. As the child without obvious challenges, this bright little boy may feel that he shouldn’t add to his mother’s burden. Because he is doing so well in school, it’s possible that you and his mom aren’t noticing that he is stressed too. So – it could be that his mother’s underwear is simply a source of comfort for him and he doesn’t understand that there are social taboos around having it. Or – it could be that he does know that people would find it disturbing and it’s a way to signal the adults that he is in distress. Or – it could be a way this good boy has found to be a little naughty without getting you and his mom upset. Or – it could be that he sees women as being the powerful people in the world and wants to be like them. Or – it could be the first indication that he has some gender confusion.
The place to start is to simply ask him what it’s about. If you can do so with curiosity and without sounding judgemental or alarmed, he just may tell you. Kids are often surprisingly open when asked matter of factly what is going on. It’s probably important to let him know that you understand that life isn’t always easy and that maybe he needs some extra comfort. If he acts embarrassed or ashamed, see if you or his mom can talk with him about how he’s feeling. Once you have that information, you will be in a better position to figure out whether he has a need that isn’t being met. By the way: Most young children give up this behavior if the adults don’t make too big a deal of it. But he’s getting to an age where it bears watching. If the behavior continues despite your best efforts to be low-key about it and to meet his needs for comfort and attention, then you might want to talk to a counselor about it. She or he could offer you more specific advice.
I wish you well.