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Raising a Tomboy

Updated on November 18, 2009

If you're not familiar with the term, a tomboy is, essentially, a girl who acts more boyish than girlish. It's nothing to do with sexual preference, though peers often associate it with such as the girl grows older. Tomboys can be straight or not straight, and there are two basic types of tomboy: those who came by it naturally, and those who were pushed into by family. The first scenario is perfectly fine -- the second is totally wrong for reasons I would hope to be glaringly obvious. But that's a subject for another time... today we're talking about helping tomboys transition from girl to woman.

The Two Types Of Tomboy

  • Tomboy #1 is naturally sporty, naturally tough and tumble, naturally aggressive, can't relate to girls who sit around and play with their barbies, and feels most comfortable with boys. Obviously, there are going to be other distinguishing facets, but they vary so tremendously that I'd rather just leave it for you to fill in the blanks.

  • Tomboy #2 was overtly influenced by a family member or someone close to her. It may have been a father (or mother) who wanted a boy and therefore treated her as such (i.e. not allowing her cry in depth, encouraging her to play sports like football or boxing, etc. and possibly even dressing her like a boy to a large degree). It could have been the result of having several older brothers who weren't tolerant of girlie could have been many, many things, but in each case the seeking of approval is a crucial factor -- Tomboy #2 either wants to impress someone, or she simply sees it as the path of least resistance.

Note: You can, of course, have something of a cross between the two.

The Childhood Years

Tomboy #1 may or may not have girl friends, but she's unlikely to take an interest in girlie clothes like dresses and patent leather shoes. She's unlikely to be particular about how she dresses, as long as it's comfortable. She's also unlikely to put any amount of thought into these kinds of things; they simply won't matter to her, much as they wouldn't matter to a boy.

Tomboy #2 may or may not have girlfriends, but would probably be happiest if she did. She doesn't feel entirely comfortable with the boys, and often wishes she could hang out with the girls more. If she dresses boyishly, this is bound to get old after awhile, and she will start to wish she could wear dresses more often -- but she may have a very hard time expressing this to her parents, especially if she thinks they prefer her in boy's clothes. She may also have trouble trying girlie clothes out if she thinks her classmates would find it amusing or strange.

From Tomboy To Teenage Girl

Puberty is a difficult time for any teenager, but it's twice as bad for a kid who wants to transition from tomboy to teenage girl. I'm sure there are some tomboys out there who manage it without issue, but most will just have to suck it up and get on with it.

  • Tomboy #1 might feel a bit awkward when it comes to playing with cosmetics and learning how to style hair, but she's not likely to feel overly embarrassed. What she needs is someone who can teach her how to be a girl -- or at least how to look like one. If you do it privately and without an audience this girl will probably be grateful for any advice you can give her.

  • Tomboy #2 is going to have a much harder time adjusting. Not only is she sure to be extremely self-conscious about the whole thing, she'll also be worried that people may not accept her new identity. She'll fear rejection from whoever encouraged her to be a tomboy from the start, and she'll fear ridicule from her classmates -- which is probably more worrisome for her.

** Some tomboys may be perfectly content to remain such throughout puberty and womanhood. Nothing wrong with that at all, obviously, and you wouldn't want to try to force her into anything girlie if she really isn't interested.

How Parents Can Help The Transition

  1. Don't make a big deal the first time she wears a dress or heels or makeup. Tell her she looks beautiful, but don't make a big scene. Not the first time, at least -- you don't want to make it seem like her being girlie is something to shocked over, you just want her to know that she's lovely whichever way she wants to dress/act.

  2. Don't force her brothers to tell her she looks beautiful (though they can certainly say so if they mean it). You don't want her to feel like the only compliments are going to come from people who "have to" compliment her.

  3. Teach her how to wear makeup (if she actually wants to wear it) -- don't make her figure it out all on her own. This girl didn't spend her childhood painting a big barbie head and she's probably never read teen cosmo. Give her a few pointers so she won't go to school looking like she spent the morning playing dress-up with mommy's makeup; if she gets laughed at the first time she tries it, she'll be unlikely to try it again anytime soon.

  4. Teach her how to dress for her shape -- she will have no concept of this, and may not even know what kind of shape she has.

  5. Teach her about posture. This is something most tomboys have no clue about. They don't stand in a way that flatters the female shape, and this makes it difficult to feel comfortable in clothes that flatter the female shape. Teach her to put her shoulders back, as opposed to standing there like a linebacker ready to tackle someone.

  6. Encourage her subtly on a daily basis to let her know that she can pull off the girlie look just fine. Eventually, she'll believe it herself.

  7. Let her wear whatever feels comfortable for her. Just because she wants to go girlie doesn't mean she'll want to wear dresses. She may want to wear baggie pants, t-shirts and makeup. Let her take it at her own pace.

  8. Don't let her father or brother (or anyone else) tease for the new changes. At all. Even if she laughs about it, it could be quite painful on the inside.

  9. If she suddenly ditches the makeup or new clothes, sit her down and find out why -- most likely, she was teased by peers and it's your job to let her know that her peers are just being prats.


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