I always say that second grade was the hardest year of my childhood. It was partly circumstantial: my parents were divorcing and I was adjusting to a new school. But other difficult things had happened before and after that year — it was just that I had the hardest time processing it all then.
I was moody, sleepless, and constantly stressed.
I remember lying awake at night in second grade, obsessively worrying about that time I had traded Garbage Pail kids on the playground weeks prior. I’d found out that day that trading cards at recess wasn’t allowed and I was certain I was going to get in trouble for it.
I would obsesses over the little, most seemingly inconsequential things. And each small thing would set me off into a dark, foul mood. I remember my mom telling me one afternoon to just shut myself in my room, throw some pillows around and scream, so that I could let it all out.
I hadn’t really thought much of this all until I saw the same exact thing happen to my son when he was in second grade. I couldn’t really pinpoint what the hell had happened with him, and neither could he.
He’s come home from school sometimes and just cry. On his worst days, he’d scream and throw stuff, for almost no reason whatsoever. It was like he’d morphed into a toddler, but he was eight years old! I swear, there were a couple of months where I really didn’t know what do to with him and I seriously thought something must be wrong.
But then, as soon as the moodiness started, it seemed to stop. And I noticed that he shot up in size, his jaw line was wider, and all signs of his “little kid” face seemed to be gone. I chalked the whole thing up to a growth spurt, remembering somewhere in the back of my mind that my second grade moodiness seemed to coincide with a growth spurt as well.
But it turns out it was likely more than that. Check this out: There’s a bodily change called “adrenarche” that all kids go through between the ages of 6-8 years old. It’s a hormonal change that sets the stage for puberty a few years down the road.
Unlike puberty, though, it’s not something that has many external signs, so what you usually notice in your kid is moodiness and a general inability to process emotions.
OMFG. Why did nobody ever tell me about this?
According to research published in BMC Pediatrics, adrenarche is a normal process that all kids go through. It’s not premature puberty, but marks the beginning of the process of puberty, the beginning results of which won’t be seen for another two years or so.
Unlike puberty, adrenarche doesn’t have many external signs, so what you usually notice in your kid is moodiness and a general inability to process emotions.
The researchers describe adrenarche as “the first hormonal process in the pubertal cascade, which begins for most children at around 8 years of age,” and explain that it’s marked by an increase in “adrenal androgen production.”
So what does this all mean for your second and third grade kiddos? Well, although symptoms like increased B.O. and a kind of acne called “micro-comedonal acne” have been noted by some experts, probably the biggest symptom is that bonkers moodiness that many of us have observed.
“Adrenal androgens are neurosteroids which appear to have an effect on some of the pathways involved in emotional processing,” George Patton, one of the study researchers told Parents Magazine.
“We are now becoming interested in adrenarche as an important phase of development in which children set in place some of the emotional and metabolic foundations for adolescence,” he added. “It is during these years that a child really begins to develop that concept of himself or herself that they carry forward into adolescence and adulthood.”
Damn. So it’s not just moodiness — I guess we are watching our kids develop a deeper sense of self and identity, which obviously can be a pretty fraught process at time. That’s pretty darn amazing.
Although I must say, when dealing with an 8-year-old screaming for an hour about the bagel you just made for them (true story), the whole thing feels pretty far from amazing.
Still, I think the idea is that when our kids are moody AF or freaking out for seemingly no reason at all (which happens all the damn time throughout childhood), we need to cut them some slack. There are so many changes that are happening in their brains and their bodies, and not all of them are apparent (like puberty) or well-known (like the terrible twos and threes) or well understood yet.
It’s not premature puberty, but marks the beginning of the process of puberty, the beginning results of which won’t be seen for another two years or so.
In any case, if you have a 6-, 7-, or 8-year-old who is driving you absolutely out of your skull, you can take solace in the fact they are normal and you are definitely not alone. Of course, if any of their behavior is really troubling or if they are having trouble functioning at home or at school, definitely take them to a healthcare professional or a mental health expert.
But in most cases, you can just blame whole thing on adrenarche, and know that it will pass soon enough. While you wait, go ahead and pour yourself that glass of wine or open up that bar of dark chocolate, put your feet up, and relax. You deserve it.