• Other Friendship Advice

My nine-year-old son prefers to play with girls

Published: September 29, 2013 | Last Updated: September 29, 2013 By | 8 Replies Continue Reading
When kids limit their friendships, it may be a mix of personality and anxiety.



My nine-year-old son is having some trouble making friends at school. He is an only child and my world. He usually plays with a girl who is his friend and sometimes doesn’t want to play with the boys. All they do is play soccer and he doesn’t really like team sports when everyone is out there.

To give you a little background on him. He is a young nine-year-old in many respects, although you can speak to him like an adult and his answers are more adult-like than a kid. He has suffered with and still has separation anxiety, and anxiety in general. He is very attached to me. I do work but he has never been to daycare.

I have someone at the house who takes him off the bus and stays with him until I get home. I am married but my husband works a lot. Growing up he has been mostly with my sister or me. We are both very caring and affectionate to him so I think he has associated girls with being sweet and affectionate whereas boys are rough and he is not.

I worry that if he continues to play with just this girl, he will not make other friends. I think it’s important for him to have friends who are boys to help him be a little more boyish. He told me last night that he doesn’t have anyone to talk to at lunch because everyone is already paired up. But I know he is shy and does not engage. He doesn’t like playdates and usually prefers to play with girls. He has three cousins who are all girls, and no other boys in the family are his age. Do you have advice on how to help him become more confident and outgoing?

Signed, Cheryl


Dear Cheryl,

I can tell from your letter how much you love your son, and my guess is, he realizes that.

Much of personality is inborn. Some boys naturally gravitate toward having friends who are girls, and some girls enjoy having male friends. A generation ago, society had more concrete gender norms, but fortunately today, we see gender as a continuum. We’re more accepting of the range of characteristics in children, whether a boy wants to play with a doll or a girl prefers toys that would have been considered boys only toys. This progression in understanding has created more well-rounded, and happier children.

Children thrive when their parents validate their interests, particularly when those interests deviate from those of the majority. It sounds like you’ve done a great job nurturing your son’s friendships and his style of play. In previous generations, parents (usually fathers) would tell boys to “act more like a man” if they displayed any tendencies that weren’t stereotypical boy, which caused more anxiety and low self esteem than changed behavior.

You don’t need to help your son be more boyish, he’s perfect as his own unique self. Sometimes kids, no matter how well-loved, need reminders of that. As hormones kick in, your son will probably gravitate more towards boys. Or, he might not, and that’s okay too as long as he’s happy and secure in his relationships.

However, if your son seems to be so anxious that it is interfering with his ability to make friends at school, you should have him evaluated by a mental health professional. He may be limiting his friendships to this one girl because it feels more comfortable for him.

You might also encourage him to be more assertive in asking if he can sit next to other kids at lunch, or asking if others kids want to play with him. Role-playing is a great way for children to develop new social skills and practice those they haven’t yet mastered. You can start being him, and he can be the child he wants to befriend at lunch, that way you’ll see his specific fears. Then change places so he has a chance to practice ways of dealing with both acceptance and rejection in the safety of your unconditional love. Be realistic, because the idea is to show him he’ll survive if the offer isn’t taken, not to ensure a perfect interaction.

Since you’ve already observed that your son is less mature than his peers, start giving him more opportunities to explore his independence (even if it scares you). Often kids with separation anxiety pick up on their parent’s tension and fears, rather than having nervousness stem from internal sources. Either way, you can help him by expressing confidence in his ability to do more things without your presence. It sounds like he already realizes that you’re his safe place to land in difficult times. You can’t, nor should you want, to protect him from being hurt 100% of the time, although watching him feel pain is extremely difficult. With failure comes problem solving development and resilience, skills he needs as part of his development into adolescence and adulthood. Allowing him to experience the trial and error of childhood might actually be harder for you than for him.

Teachers can be valuable consultants to parents. Talk to your son’s teacher to seek out her observations about your son’s behavior at school. She’s had the experience of witnessing all types of personalities, and will be able to tell you if there are issues of concern and likely have suggestions on how to address them.

Good luck.

Amy Feld*

*Amy Feld, PhD, MSW has trained and worked as a child psychologist.

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Category: Helping children make friends

Comments (8)

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  1. Nicole says:

    Hello all-
    Your posts are older, so I’m not sure anyone will respond– but I found this thread so interesting & helpful. My son is 7 years old & his best friend is a girl & he mostly (almost always) plays with girls. I was fine with it when he was younger, but now that he’s started 2nd grade I’m not so sure. I know the time will come when boys start to solely play with boys & girls with girls & I’m afraid he’s going to be left behind because the girls will push him away & the boys won’t accept him.
    I’m thinking of signing him up for Cub Scouts– he’s expressed interest in this & then schedule more male playdates. My son is an only child & spends the bulk of his time with me so he’s not getting the male influences I think he needs. Any thoughts or suggestions are appreciated.

  2. Richard says:

    Hi Cheryl,
    I have a similar situation with my 9 year old son. He is only friends with girls… And I am happy that he has these friendships but I am worried about how this plays out: for example, he recently asked me if he could go to a friend, Jenny’s birthday sleepover party – of course he would be the only boy. Realistically girly tween sleepovers just cannot work and I am afraid he is going to get hurt. It isn’t that he doesn’t know how to play with boys – his brother is just 1 yr older and he plays fine with his brothers friends when they come over – he just prefers playing with girls.
    If you are still checking this post, I would love to know how he is doing at age 11.



  3. Jarod says:

    I agree with Kacie that children should have friends of both genders. It’s the only way to have balance in a child’s life.

    Speaking as a male who grew up in a house of women and made mostly female friends as a child, I disagree with the idea to let boys gravitate solely toward female friends without hesitation or any adult guidance.

    In retrospect, I see now that in my case, I did not know how to speak “boy language” as a child. What I mean by that is that boys interact very differently with one another than girls do. The mother posting the question alludes to this when she writes: “I think he has associated girls with being sweet and affectionate whereas boys are rough and he is not.”

    A main reason I had trouble making friends with other boys as a child is because I couldn’t figure them out. At home, where I was the only male, the women were kind and polite. Often times, I was merely ignorant of how boys show affection. For example, boys like to tease, wrestle, compete with one another and engage in games that show off physical prowess.

    Many times when another boy would tease me or even put me in a headlock or grab me, I assumed he was angry. I really wish that I had a an adult male to tell me that this meant the boy simply wanted to play with me. In other words, I was “illiterate” when it came to “boy language” and this led to feelings of being different and isolated as a child. These negative feelings could have easily been avoided if someone had shown me that boys use a different “language” to show affection than girls/adults do.

    At the time, I also had an abhorrence for sports–mostly because I had no one to teach me the rules or help me develop skills in those areas. Sports are a huge part of “boy language.” Girls often judge each other on appearance, but boys judge one another based on strength and physical skill.

    I often pretended that I didn’t enjoy kickball, basketball or football simply because no one had taught me how to play those games. I couldn’t ask the other boys questions about them because it seemed like they had innate knowledge that I lacked.

    Looking back, I was sorely missing a male mentor in my life to teach me these things that are outside what a mother would normally understand.

  4. Cheryl says:

    Thank you Patricia. It’s good to hear from someone who has experience. I once heard ” a man who treats his wife like a princess was raised by a queen”. I hope this holds true for all of us raising incredible boys. My son loves with all his heart. I hope that he stay that way always.

  5. Patricia says:

    I think its wonderful that your boy has girls who are friends and I think that as he gets older boy friends will follow. Girls will hopefully teach him the way of the land in boy/girl relationships.

    I am not expert by all means, however I can share with you my experience having two boys and the difference between the two.

    My eldest is 13yrs old and has a lot of guy friends and not many girls who are friends. At this age, the girls dictate everything that the guys do. For instance if there is a party that is going to happen, the girls are usually the ones who are in control of who goes. SOOOO, if your friends with them then you will be included. The girls are the ones who plan all the outings, like going to the movies, wonderland and all the fun stuff – so if your in with the girls you will definitely be a part of the ‘group’. Because my oldest isn’t in with the girls, he tends to get left out a lot. And that is really hard for him as it is such a critical year for them.

    My youngest son is 11 yrs old and all the girls LOVE him. He has more girl friends then boy friends and he seems to be in the middle of everything that is going on. Lots of drama between all of them, but he learns a lot from these experiences. Whenever he tells me what is going on with his girl friends, I use the time to try and teach him how girls are and what to say or do to smooth things over. Hopefully this will lead to him being able to have a healthy relationship with his girlfriends in the far future.

    If I where to compare the two boys of who is having a better experience in elementary – it would probably be my youngest son. He seems much happier and well adjusted with his relationships. Even though we have to be on top of him with school work.

    My oldest just seems so upset that he is not in with the crowd and he throws himself into school work. Which by the way he is doing very well, however would like for him to have a healthy balance between both.

    This may not be what advice that everyone is seeking, but it’s just what I see is happening with my family is all.

    Hope this helps somewhat.

  6. Cheryl says:

    Thank you so much for your reply. I see things so much differently since your reply. Your right! He is perfect just the way he is. Thank you again.

  7. Kacie says:

    It might be hard for him to relate to boys at school because they’ve got very limited interests. It could be a phase that he’ll grow out of and branch out more.

    When I was in third grade (I am guessing that’s your boy’s age too) I mostly stuck with the same two boys for the whole school year. I had lots of girl friends from cheerleading and activities outside of school, but I didn’t talk to the girls in my class. This was partly because the class had a very disproportionate boy-girl ratio: there were 8 girls including me, and 16 boys. The eight girls SEEMED pretty lacking in substance and didn’t really seem to have any interests other than being mean to each other and talking about celebrities I’d never heard of. They were all trying too hard to be cool. At first I never associated with them- they only invited me to birthday parties because the school rule said they had to, and I always played with their brothers. Eventually though, we did find things in common and I became friends with a few of them. The real thing that helped us get to know each other was basketball- I joined a basketball team and saw a couple of the girls from school on my team, and we bonded over that.

    You should consider getting him into something like boy scouts, since he doesn’t like team sports. It will help him develop a variety of skills that will be both useful and fun to learn. Perhaps he might also enjoy martial arts. You could ask some of the other parents what activities their boys do, and if you enroll your son in that activity it might help him find some common ground and make new friends. Though, he should still be allowed to play with his girl friend of course. Children should really have friends of both genders.

    Hope all goes well! 🙂

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