Skip to main content

Adrenarche- Adolescence lite?

By Scott Hamilton, MD
August 5, 2022
Hamilton Blog Headshot Updated 12.21.21

One of my residents was recently talking about the animated television series The Magic School Bus, which many current parents grew up watching. This resident, a former schoolteacher, was jealous of the show’s teacher, Ms. Frizzle. She wasn’t jealous of the magic school bus, which can transform into a spaceship, submarine, or whatever cool vehicle was needed to take the class on fantastical field trips. No, her beef was how Ms. Frizzle only managed to have eight kids in her class.

School is starting again, and so are the usual back-to-school stressors for children: new teacher, new kids in the class (way more than eight!) and possibly a new school. School can be even harder when a kid’s body begins to rebel against a smooth start. No, we’re not talking about puberty or ADHD, but about a hormonal issue that affects children as young as 8 years old. This is an issue getting more press and parental attention: adrenarche.

Adrenarche is a hormone change in kids around second or third grade. They begin to develop pubic hair and may get mild acne, but not to the extent that teenagers do. They may also begin to have body odor, and that can be rough. Nothing makes kids a target for teasing or bullying like smelling bad. Furthermore, adrenarche can also cause mood swings, affecting children’s happiness in school and at home.

We expect out-of-proportion anger, tearfulness, and defiance from teens, but many parents are bewildered when their second grader starts acting out. If a kid is dealing with back-to-school stressors and body odor, it can be a real calamity. They’ve lost their ability to “roll with the punches,” to deal with these crises with grace. Thus, you’ll have to pick up the slack by being extra patient with your child.


Our oldest daughter was a very stubborn toddler. When we tried time-out at age two, we put her in a chair facing a corner of the kitchen. She hopped right out. So, we buckled her into the chair. After some struggling to unbuckle, she pushed against the wall with her feet to try to topple her chair. So, we pulled the chair out to remove that option. When she tried to engage us in a conversation, we went silent for time-out. She didn't really give us a break from toddlerhood, through adrenarche and then adolescence. Fortunately, she’s now a happy adult - Whew!

As we discussed above, adrenarche is a pre-pubertal hormone change that can give elementary-age kids pubic hair, acne, body odor and moody or explosive behavior. It is less common and lesser known than developmental stages like toddlerhood and teen-hood, requiring patience and understanding from parents.

Adrenarche is happening at earlier ages than previously seen. This earlier start doesn’t seem to affect a child’s ultimate height or development like actual early puberty can. If younger children start showing signs of true puberty, like breast development, growth spurts or genital enlargement, they need a doctor visit.

What can you do if your children are having a rough adrenarche? One stressor —body odor—is easy. Have them shower daily, preferably just before school, particularly cleaning their armpits. Help them pick out a deodorant that won’t itch. For mood swings, try time-outs for real blow-ups, one minute of quiet for each year of age (8-year-olds in for 8 minutes). A calm discussion on how to manage emotions and choose better reactions should follow. And always be forgiving. Explain that this is a normal phase that they’ll learn to manage and eventually outgrow. Be consistent, firm and fair; skills you’ll need a few years later when the hormones really go nuts!