My firstborn daughter has always been a breeze. She was a dream baby who ate and slept when I wanted her to, and save for a typical bout with testing her limits at age three, she was growing into a sweet, smart, and silly little girl. She’s always been bright, social–popular even–and quick to please with manners and general compliance.
However, this past year I noticed a seemingly drastic change in her behavior. She became sassy, extremely argumentative, moody, and tearful at the drop of a hat. She seemed to fight me over everything and would cry at the slightest perceived injustice or hurt feeling. Now, she’s always been a sensitive kid, but this was whole new-level stuff.
She turned eight in February, and I certainly wasn’t prepared for this teenager behavior this early. So what was the deal?
A Frustrating Mystery
After my husband and I started noticing these outbursts becoming more frequent, we started wondering if something was happening behind the scenes that we didn’t know about.
This past school year was a difficult one for everyone, and stability was not something we could count on with an ongoing pandemic. Still, she pretty consistently went to in-person school and seemed to foster new friendships like she always had. She flourished with her grades–and even excelled at some subjects–so we didn’t suspect she was struggling with that.
We thought she was probably getting this attitude from some cartoon or dreaded YouTube channel she watched, so we started monitoring her more closely. I asked her how she was doing after one of these tear-filled episodes.
“Why are you acting like this?” I asked her.
“I don’t know!” she exclaimed.
I asked her if anyone was being mean to her. No. I asked if school was getting too hard for her. No. It was a frustrating mystery until I heard these enlightening words from a friend with a similar problem with her daughter of the same age: “My doctor said it’s hormones.”
Hormones? At eight years old? I had never heard of such a thing. I turned to my good and trusty friend Google, and I came across this article from Parents.com explaining adrenarche.
Adrenarche is the “awakening of the adrenal gland” according to this article from Boston Children’s Hospital. It’s kind of a pre-puberty before the major stuff happens. Basically, between the ages of six and eight, most children experience this awakening, although some may never show any signs it’s happening. For the lucky rest of us, it can result in moody, distant, arguing, and tearful tweenagers that seems to have magically replaced our sweet, compliant children.
How to Deal
While it may be more than annoying for parents, this pre-puberty hormonal change is becoming very widely studied. It is being seen as an important stage of development where our kids are figuring themselves out.
While I am no expert, I can share some tricks and tips that have started helping us to get through this challenging time:
- Be patient. While these episodes are fairly frequent for us, they’re often short-lived. Sometimes it’s just best to ride out the storm before tackling the problem.
- Look for triggers. With increasing home time in the summer, screen time has increased as well. (Hey, I’m not perfect!) We’ve figured out that some much-needed stimuli breaks that we enforce for our youngest with hyperactivity also need to be enforced on our oldest now. This helps her to calm her mind and control her emotions.
- Talk it out. After she’s calmed down, we try to ask her to take a few deep breaths and explain to us–if she can–why things went so downhill. If she says she doesn’t have a reason, we don’t push it. But we explain that it’s still unacceptable behavior, and she needs to try to do better next time.
- Be vigilant for other signs. Knowing that hormones are likely the cause doesn’t give us a free pass as parents to ignore troubling behavior. It’s still important to know what’s going on in your child’s life and stay involved.
This Too Shall Pass
While I never expected to be going through these growing pains so early in her life, it’s helpful to know that I’m not alone in experiencing this. And it means she is developing right on schedule.
All we can do is support her in this new stage and help her navigate her emotions so she can build strong and resourceful coping skills into her adolescence.
Are you experiencing the beginning of the adrenarche? How are you coping? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!