When G1 was 8 years old, we saw difficult behaviours at school that was completely out of character for him. It was so at odds with the boy that I knew that it was hard to believe it was happening. I didn’t know how to help him and I felt like I was failing as a Mum. As doubt and uncertainty plagued me, I kept wondering how we got here. How had I gone so wrong for things to end up like this?
We had long talks about it and he assured me that the next day would be a better day. On the following day, when I asked him how school was, he would tell me it went well. Then I get a message from the teacher about another incident at school and realise that things were not okay. Thankfully, we had a supportive environment at school. We worked with his school teachers, learning support and the counselling services that our school provided. Together, we managed the behaviours and life returned to normal.
When G2 hit this milestone, a different set of difficult behaviours began to manifest. I attributed them to the arrival of his baby cousin. Like all new babies, she altered the dynamics in the relationship the boys had with their grandparents. It was a difficult phase to get through, but nothing I did not expect. Nevertheless, it was frustrating and very trying on everyone in the family.
Problems with 8 to 9 year old Boys
The experiences with both boys were sufficiently different that I missed the correlation in the timing. G1’s troubling behaviours were external, happening mostly at school. At home, he was the boy that I knew. G2’s behaviours were internal, happening mostly at home. We had no reports of difficult behaviours from G2 at school.
Over the Summer holidays, I met up with an old friend who told me she, too, experienced difficulties with her boys around about this age. Challenging behaviours that were normally out of character became the norm. When she shared her experiences with me, she said that it had brought her to tears when it happened. Eventually, she learned that this was common in boys at this age. It was something to do with a developmental stage somewhat akin to puberty.
Adrenarche – Prepubescent Puberty
Curious about this new piece of information, I dug deeper. I learned about the developmental stage that all children go through at around about 8 or 9 years old. It is called adrenarche – a form of pre-puberty puberty, if that makes sense. Although girls go through it, too, boys seem to be most affected by it (with some boys being more sensitive than others). Something about the change of hormones in their bodies triggers these difficult behaviours.
A study (CATS) of more than 1200 Victorian primary school students found that boys with higher levels of the adrenal androgens – hormones like testosterone – also reported higher levels of behavioural and emotional problems.Sydney Morning Herald
This was formerly an age range considered to be a period where not much is happening developmentally. I am glad to see the light being shed so that these misconceptions can be dispelled. In order to aid our children’s development, we need to understand what they’re going through and figure out how best to help them.
CATS – Moving Forward
The study is still ongoing and the full results have yet to be published, but the researchers believe that this developmental vulnerability could lead to learning loss in school, and mental health and well being issues. That said, the adrenarche developmental stage may provide an opportunity for us to intervene and reset kids who are on a riskier path. At this point, further research is still required to examine how this early vulnerability to emotional disturbance could lead to risk-taking or substance-abuse behaviour in the teenage years.
In the mean time, the first step is the awareness that hormones can play a large role in our children’s behaviours and that it can begin even earlier than we expected. Yes, I know, it’s not a whole lot to go on. We’ll have to keep following the research.