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From Toddler to Big Boy - the Great Testosterone Surge

By Sarah Liebetrau - 5th April 2011

My son recently turned 5. I remember 12 months ago when he turned 4, thinking – that’s it, that’s the end of my baby. I couldn’t even classify him as a toddler any more – he was really a kid. His vocabulary was growing every day, and combined with his natural curiosity this meant he was asking increasingly complex questions about the world around him. He had begun to show some resilience and self-control as he matured. And then something peculiar happened. He went through a period of several months where his behaviour seemed to regress, he was having trouble controlling his emotions and his meltdowns, which had begun to subside after the toddler years, were coming back more frequently.

Besides the inability to control his emotions, there was a new physicality to his outbursts. Rather than just scream and cry when an issue would escalate, he would sometimes punch and kick things in frustration, slamming doors and wanting to retreat - not even a cuddle would set things right. Some days I felt like my tender little toddler had skipped the middle years and turned into a raging teenager overnight.  Luckily, he never lashed out at another child – if anything, play seemed to help distract him, and served as a release for whatever frustrations were building inside him, and on the occasions that it didn’t, I was able to remove him from play before he became overwhelmed. It seemed to be more of a reaction to parental limit-setting or conforming to the general day-to-day family routine when it didn’t suit him to do so. But even in his play with other children, there was a new rough-and-tumble aspect that was different to the more hands-off interaction he had displayed previously.

My husband and I had always known that our first-born was a ‘thinker’, and found it hard to switch off. He seemed to be taking everything in from the first day, unable to stop processing all the myriad things going on around him (and in his own mind). We wondered whether his intellectual development was bounding ahead of his emotional development and this may have been causing some of his meltdowns. We also wondered whether the physical side of ‘being 4’, combined with a year of taking multiple courses of the steroidal drug prednisone for his asthma, may have contributed to the issue.

At this point I turned to Steve Biddulph’s book Raising Boys for some answers. The book had a lot of useful advice, but one particular statement caught our eye. Apparently boys get a testosterone surge at around the age of 4 the levels of which are not repeated again until they hit puberty. This went some way towards explaining (and normalising) a lot of Alex’s behaviour. We breathed a sigh of relief and were reassured that he would (with guidance) grow out of it. I have since spoken with other parents and found a trend, anecdotally, towards boys in particular going through similar issues anywhere from age 4-6.

At the same time we also had to decide whether to send him to school this year (at 4 turning 5) or wait until he was 5 turning 6. In his own words, Alex said “I think 4 years old is too young to be going to school 5 days a week. I don’t want to be the only 4-year-old guy. I want more time at home. I’ll go when I’m 5 turning 6.”  And he was not to be dissuaded. After much soul searching (academically, he was ready, emotionally, we were not so sure), we decided that school could wait another year.  I had wondered whether we were doing the right thing as I thought perhaps school would provide the structure and mental stimulation he needed. But my fears were unfounded  - it was the best decision we could have made.

In the last few months I have noticed a huge change in Alex again – he has developed a new maturity and is a mostly calm, considerate and resilient child. I feel happy with the way I helped him get through a fairly challenging stage in his life and I’m sure there will be more.  But for now, he is thriving at pre-school three days a week, and thoroughly enjoying playing at home with his little sister on his days off. He’ll be at school a long time, and it will still be there waiting for him when he starts next year.

image freedigitalphotos.net chrisroll

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