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DEAR ABBY: My brother and sister-in-law have been dressing my 2-year-old nephew, "Charlie," in dresses and pink clothes. They say these are what the boy has chosen. To me, a toddler will pick out whatever gets his attention at the moment, and children that age have only a rudimentary understanding of gender.

It would be one thing if Charlie were old enough to understand and still insisted he felt more comfortable in girls' clothing. But at his age I feel what they're doing will only confuse him. Keep in mind, I do not believe this is a transgender issue. I think people who are transgender should dress and act the way they feel. I just feel that age 2 is too young to determine this.

My parents (the boy's grandparents) are worried and angry. My sister-in-law knows this upsets my mother and yet it's like she's taunting her with texts and pictures of Charlie in pink and/or dresses.

Should we be worried about this or should it be none of our business? Are we overreacting? Would it be best to approach my brother to tell him our concerns? -- TOO YOUNG TO UNDERSTAND

DEAR TOO YOUNG: It is likely that Charlie is going through a phase and doing something he has seen other people do. But more important than what his mother buys for him is how others respond to it. A family's negative reaction sends a strong message. If Charlie is innocently testing out his/her authentic self, his grandparents' negative response will signal that they disapprove of who he is, which could have lasting ramifications for him.

Counselors at PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) have told me that many parents say that, looking back, they realize that by disapproving, they had sent their child the message that they couldn't accept him/her. One child had suicidal thoughts at the age of 5 because of it. (And yes, sometimes children that young do act on the impulse.)


DEAR ABBY: I often read and enjoy the Pennies From Heaven stories that your readers send and decided to share mine. Although it doesn't involve a penny, it's very special to me.

My grandmother and I had a special bond, and part of it was sand dollars. She taught me their meaning and would mail me postcards with pictures of dollars on them. When she passed away, I inherited the gold sand dollar necklace she had often worn.

I moved into a new home several years ago, and during the home inspection, I found a sand dollar in the pantry! Everything had been emptied out of the house except for that lone sand dollar propped upright on a shelf. When I saw it, I knew immediately who it was from, and I felt so blessed. It's comforting to know we are being watched over by our loved ones. -- SAND DOLLAR BLESSING

DEAR BLESSING: Your letter made me smile. I wish you had mentioned what your late grandmother explained to you about the meaning of sand dollars, because from what I have read, some people associate them with Christian beliefs, while others insist they are "coins" scattered by mermaids. Whichever meaning your grandmother ascribed to them, it's clear from what you have written that she was dearly loved. Thank you for sharing.

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