Child Caring

A 6-year-old boy wants to play only with girls

Hi Barbara,

My 6-year-old son, a first grader, has a strong preference for playing with girls. When I ask who he would like to have over a for a play date from school, it is usually a girl. We have recently signed my son up for more boy-related activities in the hopes that he will develop some more friendships with boys. Our concern at this age is many of the moms of girls prefer to have their daughters just have play dates with girls. We are afraid this will leave our son feeling left out. Any other words of advice on how to foster more boy friendships with our son?

From: Nikki, Boston

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Hi Nikki,

I think you're dead-on about moms of girls preferring their daughters play with girls and, yes, at some point, that preference not only will be communicated to the girls, but also to your son. So good for you for being pro-active.

I think you're barking up the wrong tree, though, by signing him up for more "boy-related" activities.

Girls and boys play differently. Your son prefers to play with girls because the way girls play is more interesting to him than the way boys play. (Researcher JoAnn Deak's work shows that about 20 percent of girls have a boy-style brain and 20 percent of boys have a girl-style brain.)

I chatted with psychologist Michael Thompson about your question. His work on boys' emotional development is ground-breaking and includes the best-selling book, "Raising Cain." Here's what he had to say:

"Some boys find boy-play too relentlessly competitive, too rough, and not verbal enough. They prefer girl-play because it is verbal, involves creative fantasy, and it tends to be more cooperative. So when this mom says, 'We’re trying to find more boy activities,' I want to know: what ones? Pop Warner football, or a place like the Lexington Center for the Arts? That's where he'll find boys who are like him."

It doesn't mean your son will never like sports, although, let's face it, that is a distinct possibility. "It takes some boys longer to ease into the rough and tumble boy world," Thompson says.

Meanwhile, we've got an elephant in this Mailbag, don't we? Parents who ask a question like this almost always are also (really?) wondering if this tendency to play with girls foreshadows a sexual orientation.

Thompson insists not; Deak's research comes to the same conclusion: This is about temperament, not sexuality. It's about interests and activities lining up with the interests and activities of girls. Which brings us back to the question you did ask, and here's the direct answer: Help your son to find boy playmates whose brains work as his does.

And by the way, if you have time to read only one of Thompson's books, I recommend "Best Friends, Worst Enemies, Understanding the social lives of children."

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

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