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Princess phase is OK

My daughter fell in love with royalty. It happened at Disneyland last month, as we strolled past a storefront full of finery for princesses.

"Mama, it's Cinderella!" Elle exclaimed.

So imagine her delight when we came upon a character meet-and-greet that included Cinderella in all of her blue-gowned glory. My 23-month-old grinned and giggled as Cinderella hugged her.

Elle was enchanted.

She has slept with a Cinderella doll every night since. She often asks to wear her Disney princess nightgown, and says "I a princess" if she and her brother are playing make-believe.

If I dare sit at the computer in our living room, she asks me to print a Cinderella coloring page.


Part of me wants to indulge this innocent adoration, but could doing so lead to an unhappily ever after?

Kristen Lagattuta, a psychology professor who specializes in child development at University of California, Davis, says the concern is common among mothers, but there's no need to worry.

A fascination with princesses is typical in children ages 2 to 4, although children as old as 7 may remain interested, she said.

"Part of it is related to gender identity," Lagattuta said. "Children that age have very stereotypical views of what a man is and what a woman is, and they are trying to establish that and let everyone know that they are either a boy or a girl."

Furthering the fascination is the sparkly, fun princess merchandise — something that young girls find appealing — that's marketed to girls.

The Disney Princess franchise hauls in a good chunk of change for the company — $4 billion in global retail sales in fiscal 2007, according to Disney Consumer Products' Web site.

Looks like I'm not the only parent indulging a daughter's fantasy.

Yet letting a little girl enjoy fairy tales and pretend to be Belle or Snow White won't warp her sense of reality, Lagattuta said.

"It doesn't mean that they are limiting themselves for the rest of their life and going to expect to be rescued," she said.

Parents may have cause for concern, however, if an older child (about 8 to 10 years old) refuses to wear clothes other than princess costumes, neglects friends or other activities in favor of make-believe, or focuses on appearance and status as markers of value.

"By and large, that doesn't happen very often," Lagattuta said, adding that most children outgrow the princess phase on their own.

In the meantime, I'm going to work on encouraging Elle toward princesses with other, well, redeeming qualities.

There's nothing wrong with Cinderella — she's kind and helps others. It's the servant aspect and getting dumped on that is bothersome.

Disney's latest princess, Tiana of "The Princess and the Frog," is one of the most admirable. The heroine works two jobs to open her own restaurant — a fulfillment of her late father's dream — and knows that hard work, not wishes or magic, will help her succeed.

I also plan on lots of home science projects, encouraging sports and having her father teach her how to water ski in a few years.

If she wants to put princess stickers on her skis, so be it.