Information on child development and physical growth.
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- Keeping an Eye on Child Growth
- Child Growth Explained
- Diagnosing a Growth Problem
- Encouraging Natural Child Growth
Keeping an Eye on Child Growth
From the moment a newborn baby is brought home from the hospital most parents eagerly monitor their child’s development. Every milestone is excitedly anticipated and it is so tempting to compare your own little one with other children of the same age – after all – everyone wants the assurance that their child is growing healthily along normal growth patterns.
But "normal" is a relative term, and it’s important to remember that all children grow and develop at different rates, and that they all come in different shapes and sizes unique to their own genetic coding. Some children tend to grow steadily over time, while others may fluctuate between periods of slow growth and rapid growth spurts where they often catch up to their peers.
Nevertheless, it is useful to keep an eye on your child’s development patterns and alert your child’s pediatrician if you are concerned.
Child Growth Explained
While all children grow at different rates, there are some guidelines that can help you identify if your child falls within the normal range, or if you need to be at all concerned.
Typical Growth Rates for Children
One of the stages of child development that parents eagerly anticipate is the first year of a child’s life. This is a time of rapid physical growth and development when noticeable changes are seen from week to week. Infants tend to grow approximately 10 inches in this year, and have usually tripled their birth weight by the time they reach their first birthday. Because this stage is characterized by such rapid growth, parents often get somewhat concerned when this growth drastically slows down in the years to follow.
Even more concerning is that this decrease in growth rate often coincides with a slump in appetite as the body does not need as much energy. And so it is not uncommon for parents to suddenly become concerned as first their child loses interest in food with a decreased appetite, and now it seems they have stopped growing!
This fairly drastic decline in growth rate is normal and you can expect to see a decline as your infant enters the toddler years. From the age of 2 to 3 years you can expect your child to grow fairly steadily at a rate of about 2 inches per year all the way until adolescence. Keep in mind that this growth may happen during growth spurt intervals and is not a steady rate for many children.
Diagnosing a Growth Problem
Your pediatrician or the staff at your community clinic will keep a check on your child’s development and growth, and so it is important to keep regular appointments so that any problems can be quickly spotted.
While weight and height are predominantly guided by genetic factors, you should consider contacting a physician or endocrinologist (specialist in the area of growth disorders) if you suspect any serious problems or if your child’s growth rate seems to be drastically falling behind peers. Children tend to remain along a similar growth pattern, and if this pattern changes considerably it could be a sign of an underlying condition.
Growth Charts and Body Mass Index
Growth charts and Body Mass Index (BMI) calculators are available online and may be useful for your own records. Growth charts will help you determine what percentile your child is at. For example if your child is in at the 50th percentile for height, it really means that for that age and gender, your child is taller than 50% of his or her peers and shorter than 50% of his or her peers. Keep in mind however, that these are merely rough guidelines and are generally not used as diagnostic tools.
Possible Signs of a Growth Problem in Children
- If your child's plotted percentile changes drastically. For example, if your child’s height was marked at the 70th percentile and has now moved down to the 20th or 10th percentile.
- Your child is plotted on the growth curve below the 3rd percentile.
- Consistently poor appetite and/or poor nutrition.
- Chronic abdominal pain and/or diarrhea.
- Marked weight loss or weight gain.
- Delayed puberty.
- A height very much below that predicted by the heights of both parents.
- If other dysmorphic signs are present which can be indicative of a chromosomal disorder.
Encouraging Natural Child Growth
Children generally grow to their genetic height potential with little outside assistance. What parents can do to help their child’s optimal growth and development is to create the best possible environment for this growth to take place.
Normal growth depends on sufficient nutrition and a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced and healthy diet, adequate sleep (free of sleep disorders or sleep problems) with most children needing between 10 and 12 hours per night, and regular exercise.
If your child is concerned about being too short or too tall, try to explain that everyone is different and that each person is exactly the right height for themselves. This can help children accept this unique quality as a part of who they are. Being shorter or taller than peers can be difficult for youngsters who want to fit in, and can create added anxiety or stress, so assure them that it is no more different than them having different color eyes to the next child.
Also ensure that you address issues of teasing at school and avoid drawing additional attention to the matter. Chances are that your child will soon catch up or balance out with peers by the time puberty is reached.