During childhood years (ages 6 to 12), your child undergoes steady growth and development with periods of more rapid growth known as “growth spurts.” If they're often hungry in between meals or their pants are suddenly too short, they may be experiencing a growth spurt.
It's important for parents to acknowledge and support their child's growth, especially during the rapid changes of a growth spurt, and reinforce healthy habits and behaviors during this time. Here's what to know.
Common Markers of Child Development
Physical growth is much more than overall height. It also includes weight changes, hair growth, teeth loss and regrowth, and emotional changes and brain development. Overall growth and weight gain occur at a steady pace throughout childhood, with most kids growing about 2 inches and gaining about 4 to 7 pounds per year until puberty. That said, every child is different, and periods of growth vary throughout the years.
Once a child approaches puberty, they may grow especially quickly and experience a significant growth spurt. This generally happens between ages 8 to 13 in girls and ages 10 to 15 in boys, and it can last for two to five years. This growth spurt is often accompanied by the hallmarks of puberty including development of breasts in females, the enlargement of testicles in males, and hair growth under arms and in the pubic area. During this pubescent time, your child may grow several inches in a short period.
The Nutrition Needed During a Child's Growth Spurt
Good nutrition is crucial to your child's healthy growth and development at all stages, but especially during early adolescence. The recommended daily intake for many vitamins and minerals increases during adolescence to support this period of rapid growth.
Although your kid may be hungrier than normal, make sure they eat a well-balanced diet with a variety of healthy foods and nutrients. You should offer a variety of foods from each food group daily to ensure your child gets the protein, vitamins, and minerals they need. If your child doesn't eat enough calories and nutrients, nutrition supplements such as PediaSure® Grow & Gain can help fill some of the gaps.
Nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D play a significant role during a growth spurt. Building lifelong healthy bones starts in childhood. A systematic review in Osteoporosis International suggests that calcium and Vitamin D intake improves bone accumulation and growth.
Encourage your child to eat plenty of calcium-rich foods, like dairy, leafy greens, salmon, and soy, as well as vitamin D foods like eggs, tuna, yogurt and mushrooms. The review in Osteoporosis International also recommends eating more fruits and vegetables since their consumption has also been associated with higher bone mass.
How Parents Can Navigate Growth Spurts
This time of rapid maturation may be confusing for your young son or daughter. Coping with your child's emotional needs is important, and you can take a few steps to make your child feel more at ease. Here are three strategies to consider:
1. Don't compare their growth to other children.
Although your child may be growing at a faster or slower rate than their siblings and friends, don't draw comparisons to other kids. Doing so may make your child feel self-conscious about their height. Instead, encourage your child to embrace their new size. For children who are lagging behind, explain to them that everyone grows at different rates, and some people experience growth spurts later in life.
2. Answer questions honestly.
Kids often have questions during this confusing time. They may wonder why their teeth are falling out or why they're growing so much. Let your child come to you with questions and answer them openly and honestly. Discussing these topics will help them feel more at ease with their changing bodies.
3. Focus on activities that don't prioritize height.
It may be difficult for your child to see their taller friends playing basketball or football, especially if they haven't yet experienced a growth spurt. Support your kid's self-esteem by encouraging activities that don't focus on height, like soccer, swimming, art or music.
During this time, focus on providing your child the healthy nutrition and emotional support they need — their bodies will do the rest.
Preparing for Your Adolescent's Teenage Growth Spurt
Adolescence, or the teenage years, is usually a time of major growth and development. Your child may experience a drastic change in height, accompanied by puberty milestones. These adjustments can come on quick and sometimes be surprising — for both your child and you — but the best way to mitigate any confusion is to educate your child on the changes to come.