Child growth and development is at the heart of my work with families. One of the first signs of a child’s health is their progressive growth and overall development. Learn how to understand your child’s growth patterns, signs of puberty, and more.
I get a number of questions that center around the theme of growth and development.
Parents look at their kids growth chart and ask,
“Is my child growing normally?”
“What are the symptoms of a growth spurt?”
“How many inches a year does a child grow?”
In this article, I want to help you understand your child’s growth, the growth chart, the stages of growth and development, and how growth affects your child’s health.
What is Child Growth?
Growth is the process of the body increasing in physical size. Arms and legs lengthen, torso widens and lengthens, and the head grows larger. And, of course, the internal organs grow, too.
All of these changes happen gradually over the course of childhood. However, there are sensitive periods when this process accelerates.
Baby growth spurts occur in infancy, one of the fastest growing periods in childhood. Secondly, the teen growth spurt will be the second fastest time of your child’s growth speeding up.
The Stages of Child Growth and Development
The stages of growth and development are generally broken up into infancy, the toddler and preschool years, childhood, and adolescence.
As mentioned, infancy and adolescence are when your child is growing the fastest during childhood.
During the toddler years, preschool years and school-age years, your child will grow at a more steady rate.
The Average Weight for Children
Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about body weight in children. Parents have been asking about the average weight for children, and when kids gain weight, where it is placed on the body.
They also want to know what’s considered normal weight gain.
I thought I’d do a brief overview of this.
Your Child’s Growth Chart
You should have a growth chart for your child. You’ve had it since your kid was born.
If you don’t, you can get a copy of one here.
This chart will show you the pattern of your child’s growth since birth.
On the growth chart, when you look at the weight curve, you can pinpoint the average female weight based on age. This average weight is represented by the 50%ile mark.
You can do the same with your boy’s growth chart.
Kids grow at various percentiles, but they should track predictably along one percentile, in general.
Belly Fat Before the Growth Spurt
A client of mine recently asked if his 9 year-old daughter’s belly was normal.
“She’s got a little extra around the middle and I’m a little concerned about it,” said Dad. “She’s active and seems to eat well—and thankfully she’s not worried about it, but I’m a little concerned.”
In girls, the body prepares for the important job of menstruation by laying down body fat in the area of the tummy.
It’s considered a normal transformation for girls to gain weight, particularly in the stomach. So don’t fret too much if you notice your daughter is gaining weight in that area.
It’s all part of the growth plan.
Puberty Weight Gain and Growth
For girls, puberty starts around age 10, and height takes off. You can see this happening on your child’s growth chart. When girls get taller, they tend to lose that belly fat and may thin out over time.
During this time, you will notice body weight redistribution and the addition of fat tissue–to the rear, hips, breasts, backs of arms, and thighs.
Your girl is changing into the body of a woman.
Boys enter puberty later than girls, by about two years, making the average start for puberty in boys around age twelve. Boys stop growing around age 16, however, this is individualized.
If you notice extra weight gain overall, more than the normal “pouch” and “filling out” of puberty, it may be an indication of excess, unhealthy weight gain.
It’s a good idea to read my article about teenage weight gain and privately discuss your concerns with your pediatrician.
When Do Boys and Girls Grow?
“My son seems to be the smallest in the class—all the girls are taller than he is! And he doesn’t seem to be getting muscular.”
As mentioned, girls and boys grow at very different rates. Girls outpace boys early on, then boys catch up and surpass girls later in adolescence.
Not only do boys get their turn, it lasts longer and is often called the adolescent growth spurt. It’s true, boys spend more time growing, ending up taller and more muscular than girls.
Once puberty hits, and testosterone levels rise, boy’s muscle growth occurs visibly, too. You’ll see this in later adolescence.
Bottom Line: Boys and girls grow and deposit muscle and fat tissue differently and their overall timing is different.
Knowing about these normal growth trends can deter harmful interventions (like putting a little girl with a belly on a diet), get you started with additional help if needed (in case of excess unhealthy weight), and most importantly, calm your fears.
Supporting your child through this often awkward stage of childhood is key.
How the Growth Chart Can Help
Every year, your child should be visiting with the pediatrician for his regular check up.
During this visit, the doctor will weigh and measure your child and plot these measurements on his or her height and weight chart.
These charts give you an insider’s view on how well your child is growing.
Ideally, your child will plot along the same percentile channel, such as the 10-25%ile for weight and the 25-50%ile for height, each year.
Following a regular channel is an indicator your child is growing normally, and likely following his or her genetic blueprint.
If your child is getting off track, such as jumping from one growth channel to a higher one, or not keeping up with his usual channel (e.g., flattening), this can be seen on your kids growth chart.
Following your child’s growth chart will clue you in to times when you need to assess what’s going on, and intervene if necessary.
Listen to the podcast! Children’s Growth 101
Good Growth is Essential to a Child’s Health
When your child is growing well, I am happy, your child is happy, and your doctor is happy.
Good growth is a hallmark of good health. When your child wavers from his norm, it is a red flag or a sign that things may be getting off track.
Growth relies on good nutrition, including enough nutrients and calories.
You deliver these through the balance of foods you serve. An inadequate diet will eventually show up on your child’s growth chart, but you may see signs earlier, such as fatigue, nutrient deficiencies, and delayed milestones in development.
How is your child growing?
Need More Help with Navigating Child Growth and Development?
Visit my parent nutrition education website, The Nourished Child, where you’ll find workshops, classes and guidebooks to help you successfully raise good eaters and healthy kids!
This article was originally published in January 2012 | Updated in September 2020