So that's why I'm struggling with my 7-year-old? There's a complex reason your kid might suddenly seem more emotional, we ask a psychologist for more insight

It's not your imagination here are some expert tips that might help

Emotional child crying
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A child psychologist has revealed the complex reason six-nine year old kids might suddenly seem more emotional than usual - and we've got all the insight you need from a parenting psychologist to help you guide your child through it. 

We all know about toddler tantrums, with the notorious terrible twos leading many parents to ask how to get kids to stop hitting you and why anyone could really believe experts when they say tantrums can actually be healthy for youngsters. 

But what about the emotional outbursts of older children? There are a few reasons experts have highlighted as causing some kids to be more emotional than others; perhaps you have an anxious child, or a child with high emotional intelligence, or you may be parenting a deeply feeling kid who experiences ‘explosive’ emotions.

It could be all or none of those things. But if you have a six to nine year old who suddenly seems to be more emotional than usual, one child psychologist has shared that their change in mood and behaviour may have a more complex cause. 

Taking to Instagram, child and adolescent clinical psychologist Dr Rebecca Quinn revealed, "We hear so much the toddler tantrums and the emotions of adolescence, but much less attention is given to the emotional turbulence that can arise during middle childhood.

"Did you know that between the ages of six to nine, children go through 'adrenarche'? This is a period in child development when the adrenal glands start to produce hormones called androgens. These hormones can heighten emotions at this age." 

At this age, the expert shares, "Children start to experience more nuanced emotions such as jealousy, guilt, regret and pride. Initially, they find it difficult to understand and manage these emotions." They also, she adds, haven't yet learned to deal with these feelings as their brains are still developing and this can lead to more emotional outbursts than usual. 

"Social comparison can start to present itself at this age which can add to big emotions," she adds as another contributing factor. "Friendships become more important to children around this time but friendships can change and they are unpredictable around this age as children’s interests, personalities and hobbies are changing. This can create uncertainty, instability and big emotions."

A growing want for independence is also at play. Between the ages of six to nine, children are becoming more independent which, Dr Quin says, "Can lead to pushing of boundaries, resistance and subsequently some big emotions."

Parents were quick to take to the comments section, thanking the expert for pointing out the cause behind their child's worrying behaviour. One mother wrote, "I'm so glad this has popped up on my feed. It makes so much sense with our six, almost seven-year-old. Their behaviour has deteriorated so much and I've been at such a loss as to what to do! This has been immediately shared with the mum friends!"

Another added, "Phew, it’s not my imagination then!! My nine-year-old is pushing lots of boundaries at the moment!" 

Speaking exclusively to us here at about the reaction to her post, Dr Quinn revealed that she was overwhelmed by the response of parents. "The online reaction has honestly been so heartening. I’ve devoted the best part of 20 years to the study and practice of psychology and so it is incredibly validating to see my words reach 9.5 million viewers."

The post went viral, she believes, because adrenarche isn't talked about in the mainstream and many parents simply don't know it exists. "I believe that less attention is given to the emotional challenges of middle childhood compared to the toddler phase or teenage years because the developmental changes do not happen as quickly and are not as obvious.

"During the toddler phase, children undergo rapid developmental changes that require constant supervision and support, while teenagers experience significant hormonal and social changes that are a lot more visible and often dramatic. Middle childhood, however, is typically characterised by gradual and less noticeable developmental progress, leading to a perception that children in this stage need less emotional support."

How can parents support children experiencing adrenarche in their middle years? 

For families going through this experience, Dr Martha Deiros Collado, a clinical psychologist and author of Sunday Times Bestselling book How to Be The Grown-Up: Why Good Parenting Starts with You, gave us here at her top tips to navigate the rollercoaster. 

1. Talk openly about emotions and the bodily changes causing them. "Help your child understand that hormonal changes will also heighten their emotions and also make them think about things or question things more deeply," she said. "Let them know you are there as a sounding board for them to ask questions and don’t be afraid to talk about things honestly and openly."

2. Stay calm. "When you are both calm, talk to your child about how they are feeling. It’s important to reassure children that the big feelings they are experiencing are completely normal and you understand the can make them feel afraid and out of control. Let your child know that you want to support them through this. It’s important that children feel you are on their side and not ‘against them’."

3. Find solutions. "Once the emotion has passed, think together to build a toolkit of strategies that your child can use when they are feeling big intense emotions. This may be breathing exercises, going for a stomp, listening to music to let steam off and teaching appropriate communication that is about expression rather than aggression. Helping them feel in charge of the solution can help empower them to take responsibility for their own behaviour."

4. Learn emotional regulation. "The most powerful thing you can do is learn to work on your emotional regulation so that rather than taking any big emotions your child experiences as ‘personal attacks’ to you, you understand this is part of the process of growing up. Just like tantrums when children are younger, this period has moments of intense emotion and learning to control your reactions so you can show up with compassion, modelling the language and behaviour you wish your child to do more of in the future.

"This is hard to do but it’s imperative because it’s in this early season pre-puberty that children begin to feel less understood from their parents and as adults we have a choice to find the responses that keep us close to our children, or react in ways that maintain the distance and may increase it over time."

5. Look around. While adrenarche may be the main cause for your child's big emotions, there may also be other stressors at play, the expert says. "Don’t forget to check for other things in your child’s life that may be bringing up distress and big emotions. Changes, friendship struggles, stress or difficulty at school, can all show up as bouts of anger that are hiding a more vulnerable feeling. Don’t say, 'my child is hormonal,' because in reality there is often more than one factor involved in behaviour. It’s worth taking the time to stay curious about your child’s life and talk to them naming your concerns to make sense of what is going on for them."

In other family news, baby name ‘regret’ is on the rise - when is it too late to change the name? Expert shares her advice. And, 1 in 4 children want to go on a diet - expert reveals how parents can teach their kids to celebrate and love their bodies. Plus, experts reveal importance of 'secure attachment' for kids and share 4 ways parents can create it. 

News writer

Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse is a news writer for Goodtoknow, specialising in family content. She began her freelance journalism career after graduating from Nottingham Trent University with an MA in Magazine Journalism, receiving an NCTJ diploma, and earning a First Class BA (Hons) in Journalism at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute. She has also worked with BBC Good Food and The Independent.