For both boys and girls, the rates of aggressive behavior peak around age 3. It is around age 4 that gender differences begin to emerge, as girls show greater responsivity to socialization pressures and a marked decline in their aggressive

behavior. Gender differences in aggressive behavior remain fairly robust through middle childhood, decreasing in late adolescence and adulthood. Beginning in early childhood, boys are more likely to engage in rough-andtumble

play; whereas girls typically play less physically and more so in dyads. Sex role prohibitions against physical aggression are stronger for girls. Physically aggressive girls are more disliked by peers than their male counterparts. For girls, aggression tends to be expressed in close relationships, rather than in the community at large. Boys tend to make up after a fight with another boy more quickly than girls do when they fight with other girls. Therefore, the conflict among boys is usually less disruptive of ongoing group activity than it is among girls. Boys who are slighted by other boys tend to shrug off such treatment. Girls are more likely to become upset when they are victims of relational aggression (slights, put downs, rolling of eyes, signs of social rejection). Girls are more likely to form close intimate friendships with a small subset of girls, typically one or two. These friendships are marked by sharing of

confidences and self-disclosure, rather than their participating in group activities and group games. Girls are more likely to evidence a “rejection sensitivity.” Girls (even as infants) show evidence of more empathy than boys and stronger affiliative tendencies. Girls also show more guilt, remorse and prosocial behaviors. Girls are more likely to show evidence of what is called a “tend-andbefriend” response pattern, rather than a “fight or flight” behavioral pattern. Such female empathy provides a potential source of strength and resilience that can be martialed in treatment. Parents, as well as teachers, tend to discourage physical aggression in girls and tolerate and encourage it in boys. Girls tend to withdraw from competitive situations more than boys.  by

Donald Meichenbaum, Ph.D.

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