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Gender Differences in Boys' and Girls' Emotions

By — Gender Differences Special Edition Contributor
Updated on May 17, 2010

Finding a Safe Place When Stressed

Boys and girls often process emotions differently. When my daughter was young and in need of support she had a special technique.  She would come to me and say "Daddy, I need special time," and I knew just what that meant.  We needed to face two chairs towards each other and she would talk about what was bothering her.  She might complain that her friend had said she talked too much and I would respond with a supportive "Ah, Julia."  She might then tell me that another friend had told her that she didn't want to play with her ever again and I would again offer support through a simple, "Ah, Julia."  After about 5-7 cycles of “Ah, Julia,” she was ready to go!  Her cup was full and, she would say “Thanks, Dad” and off she would go outside to play.
 
What was Julia doing?  She was creating a "safe place" for herself.  One important aspect in healing is that when people are in trouble psychologically they will first look for a safe place.  Julia went a step farther.  Once she had the safe place she used it to tell her story.  Combining these two elements is the outline of the common path that most of us use in healing ourselves. Finding safety and then telling our personal story. Julia arranged for me to steward that safe place and then talked about what was bothering her.  Through this story-telling process done in a safe place she began to find healing.  One other common example of this process is attending a support group which acts as a safe place for people to tell their story and through the repeated telling balance is found.
 
My son, however, would not come to me and say, "Daddy, I need special time." Absolutely not.  Why not? The reason is that sitting face to face is simply not safe for him.  Where do men and boys like my son feel safe?  More often, it is not when they are face to face, but rather when they are shoulder to shoulder taking action.  Think of the places where men feel close to other men.  It is most often when they are taking action and working on a common goal.  The more dangerous the goal, the closer the men feel to each other.  Wartime, police departments, fire departments, and sports teams at a championship are all examples of this.  Through working together, shoulder to shoulder, the men feel close to other men. Here lasting friendships are forged within that safety.  
 
Would Luke ask for special time?  No.  He would come to me and say, "I wanna wrestle!"  Keep in mind that he was in first or second grade, and I am 6'2" and far from tiny.  I would say, "Okay, but you better be ready for me!"  Then the wrestling would commence.  At first he would have me down, then I would have him down. Back and forth it would go.  At some point during the battle, Luke would stick his little head up and say, "Jimmy got beat up at school today," and I would ask if it was bad and he would say “Oh yeah, there was blood coming from his nose.”  Then the interlude abruptly ceased, and he growled loudly and attacked me with all his might.  A minute or two later, Luke might stick his head up again and say, "I miss Granddaddy."  He was referring to my father who had died just a few months before.  My heart cracked open, and I responded that I missed him too.  In a flash, he would growl and attack again and was on top of me with all his might. 
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