Back when I had two young boys, I believed children fit into one of two categories: boys or girls.  Then one week at our MOPS meeting the speaker (with a degree & experience), shared a new, interesting, fact:

There was a boy spectrum.

On one end of the spectrum were the boys who preferred running shirtless outside, wrestling and risks. At the other end were the boys who were more sensitive, enjoyed pretend play and conversation.



Dr. Ted Zeff in his book, “The Strong Sensitive Boy” defines the two groups this way:

“Sensitive boys are generally less aggressive than the “average” boy and are at the opposite end of the spectrum from the less emotional, aggresive, risk-taking non-HSBs. The HSB is conscientious, sensitive to his environment, and socially aware of others around him.” (HSB-Highly Sensitive Boy)

Presently, as the mom to four boys, I have four different versions of a boy, placed along that spectrum.

This month, as the MOB Society focuses in on the more tenderhearted boy, one topic came to mind: our response to their shame, because in a world where a boy should look and act a certain way, there will come a time when your tenderhearted son will most likely be targeted as “different”.

And if he is a more sensitive boy, that rejection will sting a little more than with other boys.

“According to William Pollock (1998), whenever boys do not conform to the ‘boy code’ and instead show their gentleness and emotions, they are usually ostracized and humiliated. Sensitive boys, especially, learn to deny their real selves in order to be accepted and approved by their peers. This denial can create fear, anxiety and low self-esteem.”–Dr. Ted Zeff

Wowzers. This makes me wonder, does my sensitive son see me as a safe place to share his shame?

Recently I began reading Brene Brown’s book, “Daring Greatly”. She has done extensive research on the topics of vulnerability and shame. One of my favorite points she makes is:

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” -Brene Brown

For example, let’s say after school my son tells me that the boys at recess wanted to play a rougher-than-normal game of tag. When he told them he’d rather not play they pushed him to the ground.

For the less emotional, aggressive boy this event may not even bother him. For a more tenderhearted boy that action may be perceived as rejection, causing embarrassment and hurt feelings.

When he shares his shame with me I could respond in one of two ways:

  1. Shame (“Why didn’t you want to play tag? It’s a fun game. If you don’t toughen up, you won’t have any friends”) OR
  2. Empathy (“I remember wanting to play something different from my friends at recess. I decided to come up with my own game instead”).

In this particular case, by God’s grace, I chose the second option. Thankfully, he sat up a little straighter, focusing on a new goal: to create another game to play.

Brene Brown wrote that shame decreases creativity, while empathy encourages it. I’ve found that statement to be true with my son.

When I asked my son if I could share his story with y’all he said,

“Yes! Tell them it’s good to start a fun game for boys who don’t want to get hurt.” (cue melting heart).

May we as moms consider the variety of boys, particularly when those boys vulnerably share hurts:

  1. Providing quiet one-on-one moments with our sons.
  2. Listening more than instructing.
  3. Lingering with a back rub at bedtime instead of rushing out of the room to our to-do list.
  4. Sharing our own personal stories of hurt to allow an environment of vulnerability.

What ways could you provide a safe place for your son to share his shame?

Additional Resources:

  • For more information about boys & various stages in boy development, definitely check out David Thomas’ book, “Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys”
  • To learn about vulnerability and the impact of shame, check out Brene Brown’s, “Daring Greatly”.
  • To explore the topic of Highly Sensitive Boys, consider reading Dr. Ted Zeff’s book, “The Strong Sensitive Boy”.


Heather has been married since the turn of the century (sounds more impressive than it is) and is the mother of four young boys (born exactly, to the day, within 6 1/2 years . . . just like she’d always planned). Heather writes about motherhood and chronicles the messy journey of “relentlessly replacing ‘me’ with ‘He’ — sharing the daily struggle of remaining God-centered while mothering four wild-at-heart, energetic, and often stubborn boys. She also hosts a weekly podcast interviewing moms & experts on staying God-centered.