Handling Your Preteen’s Growth Spurt

Signs to look for and how to maintain this tricky growing stage

By Samantha Sacks

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Handling Your Preteen's Growth SpurtGrowth spurts. As parents of newborns, we’re trained to look for them at the six-week, three-month and six-month marks. Moms and dads of busy toddlers know not to leave the house without the requisite container stuffed with cereal and fruit lest their little one feel a pang. And a growing six-year-old might need a hit of PB&J before bed to make it through the night. But no amount of snack-crammed bags can prepare the unwitting parent for the doozy of all development stages, that behemoth burst of mind and body expansion: the pubertal growth spurt.

Recent developments

This major growth spurt occurs at puberty between the ages of nine and 14 for boys and eight and 13 for girls. (Puberty can last from two to five years.) And if you thought your baby developed quickly in the first year of life, just wait until you see what your preteen is about to do: a massive mountain of growth that should see parents keeping kitchens stocked with iron- and calcium-laden foods like never before, according to Karen Kristensen, a registered dietician at B.C. Children’s Hospital. Pubertal growth accounts for 20 per cent of adult height. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Kids’ skull bones can thicken by 15 per cent; they’ll experience weight increases that account for 50 per cent of their final, adult, ideal body weight; double the weight of their hearts, increase the size of their lungs; grow body hair and develop sex characteristics.

Seeing the signs

For Toronto psychotherapist and mom of two Laurisa Dill, the first clue her nine-year-old daughter was hitting a growth spurt was a change in her daughter’s “natural” bedtime. But letting her preteen stay up later had repercussions that went beyond eating into mom and dad’s alone time. “The rest of the world’s schedule was still status quo,” says Dill, “which meant my daughter would wake up exhausted, medicate an after-school low with carbs and sugar, be full of junk by dinner, fill up on snacks at 8 p.m. and be wired again for bedtime.” Rejigging her daughter’s eating and sleeping habits in a way that satisfied her body’s rapidly changing dietary needs meant trying a host of tricks and some good old-fashioned common sense, including readjusting her daughter’s circadian rhythms by exposing her to morning sunlight in the form of some outdoor play before school, and a late-night walk to burn off energy.

Listening to the body

Growth in height and weight do not always happen simultaneously — some children gain weight before they gain height, while others grow taller before they fill out. Dill knew this hurdle would involve teaching her daughter to listen to her own body, and stopping herself from fearing that “she’s eating too much, she will get fat,” or alternatively, “she’s eating too little, she will get too thin.” “I have to remind myself and have faith that through all the bumps of it all, their bodies will tell them what they need if they and we listen and stay tuned,” says Dill. “I just hope she can take the time and learn the patience to acknowledge, accept and distinguish what she’s feeling.” It’s a tack dietician Kristensen heartily agrees with. “Teaching kids to respond to their own satiety is a skill that will last a lifetime.”

Samantha Sacks is a mom of three children under six who is terrified to see her grocery bill when they become teens.

Eat up

“It’s difficult to make sure kids eat well at the best of times, but once they’ve got some independence it’s even harder,” says Toronto-based pediatrician Dr. Pat Neelands. “Kids at this stage need lots of iron and calcium — especially girls, who tend to shy away from eating too much meat. Two great sources are nuts and beans. Almonds make a good, healthy snack and dips like hummus are great for pairing with veggies.”

According to Canada’s Food Guide, your preteen’s nutritional needs should include:
Grains 6 servings per day (1 serving = slice of whole-grain bread)
Vegetables and fruits 6 servings per day (1 serving = ½ cup of fresh, frozen or canned vegetables or fruit, or 100% juice)
Milk products 3 to 4 servings per day (1 serving = 1 cup of milk, or ¾ cup of yogurt)
Meat and alternatives 1 to 2 servings per day (1 serving = 2 tbsp of peanut butter, two eggs, or ½ cup of poultry or lean meat)

Children may eat more or less at meals or snacks. And as they grow older, serving sizes and numbers of servings will increase.

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