The myth of the toddler testosterone surge

One of the strongest myths about child development for boys is that of the testosterone surge in toddlers. The tired mothers of toddler boys will sigh and talk about 'a tesosterone surge at three.... as big as the change at puberty'.
Although well accepted and published in many articles and books about parenting. I have always thought that it sounded a bit strange. The testosterone surge in adolescence is associated with huge physical changes - none of which are seen in boys of three to four years of age. Boys of this age are not even experiencing a growth spurt let alone all the other changes that are seen in teenagers.  But lets have a better look at it anyway.

The story
If you google 'testosterone surge toddler', you'll get a variety of blogs and opinion based articles but few factual sites. The most legitimate information on it that I could find and the apparent original source of this myth the Raising Boys book states only '(testosterone) levels drop a few months after birth, and will rise again at age 4 or 5 for reasons that no one understands'.
 Apparently, according to the author (who is by the way a psychologist and not a biochemist or medical doctor) the levels of testosterone surges to double that experienced as a baby and then reduces back to about half that at age 5 (where apparently it steadies). This testosterone surge causes your four year old boy to throw tantrums, disregard parents and generally behave in an unruly manner.
Interestingly, although this stance says that the surge happens at 4, that has been expanded by those using it to explain bad behaviour from age three onward.

Testosterone and behaviour
I'm just going to hold whether there is or isn't a testosterone surge to the side for a minute and look at whether testosterone could even be the cause for such behaviour.
First of all, this assumes that 4 year old boys behaviour is worse than that of girls of the same age. Although as the mother of a 2 year old girl, I would love to consider that to be true it is certainly not the case from 3 to 4 year old girls that I know.
Anyway, the link between testosterone and behaviour is contentious to say the least. The most that can be said from years of studies is that increased testosterone may be linked to increased levels of aggression 1 but there is certainly no link between testosterone and inattention or overactivity 2. So, if four years old suddenly started to fight or behave in an agressive manner it could be linked to an increase in testosterone. However, a four year old who does not listen or is generally acting up is not likely to be caused by any hormonal changes.

Testosterone through the lifespan
Okay, so  is there a surge at age four. Or during childhood at all.
Below is an image of what the testosterone levels throughout the lifespan look like. There is a surge of testosterone for boys but that occurs at between 0 and 6 months, there is nothing else until puberty. Notice that in order for the testosterone surge to be double that experienced as a baby they would be experiencing testosterone levels equivalent to that of puberty.

Interestingly, if you look at this other nice little diagram it would appear that testosterone is actually far more stable throughout childhood than the female hormone oestradiol which is more subject to 'surges' and 'lulls' 3. So if anyone is going to be claiming hormonal variations as the cause for challenging behaviour, it should be parents of girls not boys.

So there is no testosterone surge in early childhood or throughout childhood at all. Even if there was, it would possibly explain an increased level of aggression but no other behavioural change. 

Does it matter?
Maybe not. Maybe its a reassuring myth, telling parents that this too shall pass.
But I think it does matter. I dislike,  the medicalisation of behavioural issues that your child presents. First its the milk upsetting their stomachs, then its  teeth, then its hormones. Your kids are tired, or they're hungry or they're sick. There always seems to be some physical reason for why children are being challenging. But maybe there's not. Maybe challenging behaviour is due to developmental changes and a child trying to express or cope with new sensations and ability or maybe its caused by inconsistent discipline or unrealistic expectations. By disregarding their behaviour by explaining it away due to physical things, maybe we are missing what that behaviour is actually trying to tell us. 


  1. Thanks! I'm glad I persisted in my googling and found this well balanced and researched article.

  2. I just want to say thank you! FINALLY someone is out there telling the truth. I have fought this myth for 6 years, teachers, early childhood teachers all vow it's true. At last the top of a google search comes up with how mythical this is. Thanks

  3. Hi fellas,
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  4. I'd be interested to know more about testosterone surges in toddlers though. Sometimes my (2.5 yo) son will have a week of complaining that his willy hurts (i.e. he has lots of erections), and those are the same weeks he spends hitting me in the face, throwing his toys around and roaring. My conclusion (and I do have a science PhD ;-) is that his testosterone is up. Testosterone must fluctuate like any hormone, but is this influenced by growth spurts, illness etc.? Hmmm.

    1. This is exactly what I've found this week with my 2.5 yo. He is the 2nd of my 3 boys...and (without meaning to sound inappropriately graphic!) he has an unusually large willy! I just feel a link to testosterone would explain a lot...but I've found so little 'evidence' (either scientifically or anecdotally). Did you ever discover any other info to help?

  5. It is hard to decipher the good from the bad on the internet these days, all the hype about testosterone boosters and popular topics like Nugenix review and others have really clouded the information available to parents and individuals looking to do things the right way.

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  8. Super interesting article on testosterone thanks! htx

  9. Hey! Well brief defined article about changing behaviour of raising boys. At this stage boys have some physical changes in body like growing height and muscles growth. In this age they need supplements then Sarmstore1 is the right place. You will get all SARMs here like MK 2866, GW 501516, LGD 4033, MK 677, SR9009, RAD140 and YK11.

  10. I do not agree with this at all. I get the hormone and whether it is or it is not a myth element but you seem to have missed the point. Any parent looking for this type of article is looking for help not a patronising condemnation. Our kids don't come with instructions and they are each a little quirky. You seem to imply that the parents are simply looking to excuse bad parenting on hormones or the like. The reality is that the vast majority of parents are caring, trying and invested in helping thier kids through challenging times and behavioural episodes. Some of which can have a root cause and others not. The putting down of parents needs to stop by so called experts like yourself.


    In this study titled “Empathy, estradiol and androgen levels in 9-year-old children”, the group of authors discovers how girls with a higher level of male hormone testosterone show lower level of empathy compared to girls with excess estradiol, while boys with higher levels of the female hormone estradiol show greater empathy than boys with excess testosterone levels. In order not to be deconcentrated in his responsibilities with those responsibilities which primarily correspond to the female sex, a man’s emotionality is, therefore, blocked in the development by the male hormone testosterone. While a woman is more endowed with emotional intelligence that reveals her sphere of responsibility and guardianship for the persons with whom she is directly close, a man is more distinguished by abstract intelligence - issues of general significance that make him the source of the safety of his wife and family, and the source of justice in the human community. Therefore, completely purposeful to their place under the sun – to a woman is more important how she feels, and to a man is more important whether that what he is doing is valuable, powerful, meaningful and just. The capabilities of male and female sex are mutually complementary fulfilling each other. In the same stressful situation, a woman will rather react with emotion of fear and defensively (to preserve children), while combativeness she will leave to a male sex who is for the aggressive defense of family and community enabled by his psychological and physical features.

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