Growth spurts

How does your preteen grow? A sudden increase in height can be disorienting for your tweens

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You could almost swear it was only a week ago that your son got new jeans, and already they’re barely covering the tops of his ankles. Or your daughter has suddenly grown so tall — even elegant! This is a time of dizzyingly fast growth. Adam Baxter-Jones, associate dean at the College of Kinesiology at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, explains how it goes: “Maximum growth in stature peaks in girls at 12 when the average growth is about nine to 10 centimetres [3½ to almost four inches] per year. In boys it happens two years later and at a greater speed—about 11 to 12 centimetres [about four to 4¾ inches] in a year.” Whew!

Weigth gain and growth spruts

Kids also tend to get a little heavier just before they have the growth spurt. Toronto paediatrician Miriam Kaufman explains, “That weight gain actually fuels some of the growth, especially with boys—they seem to need constant fuelling.”

And girls will find that their weight distribution is changing—they’re getting breasts and hips and their centre of gravity is different.

If it’s a surprise for parents to find a taller kid sitting across from them at the breakfast table, just imagine how it must feel to the child: all arms and legs!

“Kids this age are having to deal with a whole different physical relationship to the world,” says Kaufman. “You know what it’s like when you get a new pair of glasses; you look down and the ground is at a different distance. For these kids, the ground really is at a different distance! It has to be disconcerting—trying to be coordinated and make their way through the world.”

Kids may feel self-conscious as they get used to their new, unfamiliar bodies—especially those who’ve been adept at dance or sports. You almost want to give a kid a hug. But Kaufman cautions, “Hugs are always great—in private. Don’t hug them in public and don’t say anything about their body or other changes in front of anyone else.”

Show your support

Show your support by focusing on the positive aspects of growth spurts: “It’s great that you’re getting taller!” But make sure your child knows you’re approachable if he’s worried or frustrated too. Ask him if he has any concerns.

Louise Humbert, an associate professor at the College of Kinesiology at the University of Saskatchewan, says it’s important to keep a kid feeling good about himself through these months. “Understand that there are times when they’re really growing and are not as coordinated. Accept it as a natural occurrence and do whatever you can to keep kids engaged in physical activity. At this age, kids tend to be pulling out of physical activity and we need to keep them active.” This is especially true for girls, adds Humbert. “A girl who may have liked a sport where her body was on display may not like it now, so help her find an activity that she feels comfortable with. This is a sensitive time.” (See Growth spurt caution, below.)

The good news for kids who like sports? Humbert says, “The really skilled kids may not be as skilled while they’re growing, but they’re pretty good with their bodies—they can weather this thing. Just know this is coming and stay positive.”

Growth spurt caution

Toronto paediatrician Miriam Kaufman reminds parents that some kids who are heavily into particular activities (such as gymnastics, skating and dance) may think about not eating so they can stay small. You’ll want to talk to them about the dangers, and perhaps involve your doctor. Not eating properly can be bad for kids’ bones (risking more sports injuries) and there can be a long-term impact on height and development.

How does your preteen grow?

It’s not as straightforward—and straight up—as you might think. Adam Baxter-Jones, associate dean at the College of Kinesiology at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, explains:

• At birth the head is half its adult size, but the trunk is one-third and the legs one-fifth of the adult size—they all grow at different rates.

• We grow inward—hands and feet grow first, then arms and legs. Growth in legs peaks before growth in stature, resulting in those gangly legs that trip kids up!

• Bone growth happens first, followed by the laying down of soft tissue—then mineralization of the bone. That’s one reason there are more fractures at this time, as well as coordination troubles.

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