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The Testosterone Surge

Your guide to the ages and stages of development

My four-year-old son leaped from one chair to another yelling to his imaginary foe, "Bang, bang! You're dead!" I winced as he jumped onto the floor with a tremendous thud rocking the security of my most precious breakables. I thought my home was 4-year-old friendly, but I was wrong. My son has progressed from tranquil to rough-and-tumble and loves every minute of it. What happened to the child who loved Legos and reading books?

Some experts believe that at 4, boys experience a sudden surge in testosterone. Although doctors find it physiologically baffling, it does explain the unavoidable invitation to action, heroics, adventure, and vigorous play. Steve Biddulph, a family therapist and author of Raising Boys, says that although mom may feel more stressed, dad likes his new pumped up preschooler who enjoys more physical play. Biddulph says that the testosterone surge drops by age 5 and a boy will calm down; however, he will still love adventure and activity (the interest-in-girls part comes later). This increased energy level can be a challenge; so how can parents keep in control?

In his book, Biddulph refers to a story of an old scoutmaster who was asked to sort out a hopelessly rowdy scout troop in the city. The boys were always fighting and damaging their surroundings, nothing was learned, and many gentler boys left the troop. On the scoutmaster's first night, he set some rules, invited a couple of boys to shape up or leave, and began teaching skills to the boys in an organized manner. In a couple of months he turned the troop around and it is thriving. This scoutmaster says there are three things boys always need to know:

Who's in charge? Boys feel insecure and threatened if there isn't structure in their environment. Boys will act tough, pick fights, run around, and be noisy to cover up their fears. But if they know who's the boss, they will relax. Nothing speaks louder than action. Be consistent with discipline but offer good, positive support, too. Your son will periodically test your resolve. Expect this and stand firm.

What are the rules? Write them down, discuss them with your child, and post them in a prominent place.

Will those rules be fairly enforced? Don't react and automatically assume your son is at fault. Respond by letting him tell his side and then decide on discipline. Remember to make the punishment fit the crime.

Some biologists believe the rise in testosterone is caused by the environment. In one study, it was found testosterone levels rise in hostile environments and fall in supportive environments. Biddulph believes this proves that biology does not determine fate: "You can make great human beings of your children, if you do it with love and respect. You have a choice."

Melodie Wright

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Related Topics:Change; Children; Parenting
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