I had good intentions for my 2 sons to be creative with art and crafts from an early age.  I bought crayons, paint, glue and scissors and lots of glitter.  My hopes would rise when they’d run into the house to stick a sticker on something.

After 20 seconds maximum they’d run outside and hit something with the biggest stick they could find.  Despite my encouragement to create masterpieces they had other priorities.

These boys needed more opportunities to take risks and to play using their bodies. Rough play was in. The lawn became a wrestling pitch. Rules included use a swim noodle to hit your opponents, hit all parts of the body except the head area and private parts.  They loved it even more when their Dad or I joined in.

Since then our boy-centric household accumulated many stories about the effect of testosterone. Like this one:

I was about to jump in the shower one morning and something made me hesitate as I noticed it was especially quiet. You know that feeling that you ignore at your peril! A quick look inside and I realised they were not actually inside the house. So I keep on going. I found one son dangling, trussed up with a rope like a chicken, hanging from the deck on one side of the house. His brother looked on, not so sure how to fix this problem.  I was just thankful no harm was done and the rope was put away.

Years later and I’ve been reading Michael Gurian’s book called Saving our sons.  It goes  through a whole load of neuro-science about how this sort rough play is not only fun it’s actually necessary to develop male emotional intelligence (MEI).

This quote stood out:

Males need to be impulsive to test their emotions and character experientially in the real world.  They need this experiential learning curve of body/brain connection because they don’t do as much of their emotional intelligence building through words as their sister would“.

It’s no wonder this is how it works when you look at some of these key differences between male and female brains.  Compared to females, males have:

  • fewer nerve endings for pain
  • fewer pain receptors in the brain
  • less activity in the the part of the brain responsible for empathy (the insula)
  • fewer word centres connected to emotions

Many mums of boys tell me that they are concerned that their sons are too rough or are not empathetic enough, especially towards their younger siblings. Is this you? I used to feel like this and even now there are times when it’s hard for women to watch boys without wincing.

We’re like citizen scientists, observing what Gurian describes as:

“...uncomfortable hits, knocks, jabs, wedgies and other physical gestures among males (which) are forms of kinesthetic love – physical MEI building mechanism“.

Reading this part another light bulb went off – my Dad used to give me and my brother a “horse bite”  by grabbing our bent knee on either side of the knee joint and squeezing really hard. It certainly woke us up. Now I know why he did that!


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