What Is Growth?
From the moment parents greet their newborn, they watch the baby's progress eagerly, anticipating every inch of growth and each new developmental milestone along the way. But how can they tell if their child is growing properly?
Physical growth refers to the increases in height and weight and other body changes that occur as a child matures. Hair grows; teeth come in, come out, and come in again; and eventually puberty hits. It's all part of the growth process.
The first year of life is a time of astonishing change during which babies, on average, grow 10 inches (25 centimeters) in length and triple their birth weights.
Given all the growth that occurs then, new parents might be surprised when their child doesn't continue to grow through the roof after the first year. But no child continues the rate of growth experienced during infancy. After age 1, a baby's growth in length slows considerably, and by 2 years, growth in height usually continues at a fairly steady rate of approximately 21/2 inches (6 centimeters) per year until adolescence.
No child grows at a perfectly steady rate throughout this period of childhood, however. Weeks or months of slightly slower growth alternate with mini "growth spurts" in most children. Kids actually tend to grow a bit faster in the spring than during other times of the year!
A major growth spurt occurs at the time of puberty, usually between age 8 to 13 years in girls and 10 to 15 years in boys. Puberty lasts about 2 to 5 years. This growth spurt is associated with sexual development, which includes the appearance of pubic and underarm hair, the growth and development of sex organs, and in girls, the onset of menstruation.
By the time girls reach age 15 and boys reach age 16 or 17, the growth associated with puberty will have ended for most and they will have reached physical maturity.
At the Doctor's Office
Beginning in infancy, kids will visit a doctor for regular checkups, during which the doctor will record height and weight as they compare with that of other kids the same age on a growth chart. This valuable tool can help the doctor determine whether a child is growing at an appropriate rate or whether there might be problems.
What Parents Can Do
You can do a few things to help ensure that your child grows and develops normally. Critical to kids' overall health and wellness are:
- enough rest: Sleep patterns vary by age and individual child, but most kids need an average of 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night. Sleep gives growing bodies the rest they need to continue growing properly.
- proper nutrition: A balanced diet full of essential vitamins and minerals will help kids reach their full growth potential.
- adequate exercise: Because obesity is a problem for many kids, parents should make sure that their kids exercise regularly and eat healthy. Bicycling, hiking, in-line skating, sports, or any enjoyable activity that will motivate kids to get moving will promote good health and fitness and help them maintain a healthy weight.
Talking to Kids About Growth
Kids differ in growth and development during childhood — just like adults, some kids are taller or shorter. Generally, girls hit puberty earlier than boys, although some girls might lag behind their peers in breast development and the onset of menstruation. All of this is usually completely normal.
Try to avoid comparing growth among siblings or other children. Drawing attention to height, for example, will only make kids feel self-conscious about their size. Encourage your kids to accept their own growth and development. Explain that some kids grow and develop at different rates — and late bloomers usually catch up eventually.
Kids have many questions about growth, from why their teeth fall out to difficult or potentially embarrassing topics like breast development or perspiration. Answer questions honestly and even initiate conversations about growth to help kids understand the many changes they're facing. This will help them accept the changes positively.
If you're uncomfortable discussing these topics, your kids may interpret that to mean there's something shameful about the changes they go through and they may be less likely to bring their concerns to you.
Kids who are short often face teasing by peers and may need help coping. You can help by supporting your child's self-esteem. For example, although it might be difficult for a small boy to make the football team, emphasizing alternatives, such as soccer or tennis, may make him feel better about himself and what he can do. A small teen might have concerns about dating, driving, and participating in sports. It's important to try to understand your child's feelings and to keep the lines of communication open.
Another way to boost your child's mood is to encourage activities that don't focus on height or weight. Emphasize special talents or individual qualities, such as musical aptitude or a love of literature.
If You Suspect a Problem
Some parents worry about their child's growth and development, but it can be reassuring to know that most kids who are short or delayed in development are healthy and normal. For example, shorter parents tend to have shorter children and not all kids develop at the same rate.
If you have concerns, the first step is to consult your doctor, who can thoroughly evaluate your child and your family history and, if necessary, order tests to see if there's a medical condition affecting growth. The doctor may choose to monitor your child's growth more frequently on a growth chart or refer your child to a pediatric endocrinologist (a doctor specializing in growth disorders) for further evaluation.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: May 2010