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Let us begin with the basics: What is growth? In general terms, growth is an increase in the physical size of the body or any of its parts. It is a quantitative change in the body and can be measured using units like kg, pounds, meters, inches and feet. Development, on the other hand, means progressive increase in the skills and functional capacity. It is a qualitative change in the child functional skills measured mostly via observation. Today, I will focus on growth, which in general terms, is best measured through the height and weight of a child.
In a growing child’s life, the years from 3 to 9 mark a critical growth phase. Not surprisingly, this is the time when anxious mothers walk through my clinic doors. I find that the common anxiety stems from the fact that they see other children – child’s classmates or children in the family-friend circle – growing taller or gaining weight more steadily than their own child. They believe their child to be either shorter or thinner.
Let me throw some light on growth milestones during early childhood and middle childhood. The early childhood or the preschool age is the stage where the child is 2–6 years of age. Growth is relatively faster at this age except when the child is suffering from malnutrition, repeat infections or other illnesses. In terms of weight, a child gains approximately 1.8kg/year, and when it comes to height gain, it is considered ideal if a child doubles birth length by 4–5 years of age. Next comes middle childhood, which is 6 –12 years. In this age group, a child usually gains about 3.8kg/year. Boys tend to gain slightly more weight. When it comes to height, a child would gain about 5cm/year.
How to monitor growth? Age appropriate CDC growth charts for boys and girls or WHO growth charts for boys and girls are easily available may be used to track your child’s growth. Any parameter falling beyond the lowermost or the upper most line on the graph at an age appropriate mark should be evaluated. However, know this: Each child grows at his or her own pace and the range of normal” can be wide. It is good to stay alert – it is also equally good to wait and watch. In either case, it is helpful to be aware of red flags for potential growth delays in children. I suggest that you consider the below-mentioned “5 watch outs” before getting into the panic mode:
1. Is your child a fussy eater? Nutrition plays the paramount role in the growth of a child. Cultivating good eating habits is the first golden rule to ensure healthy growth to your child. If your child is a reluctant eater – not occasionally, but on a regular basis – the growth evaluations should be done meticulously and any lag should be addressed timely. Growth lost in early childhood requires special attention and nutrition in order to catch up.
2. Does your child get sick easy? If your child is suffering from low immunity, it may affect the growth milestones. Chronic untreated diseases definitely impair growth. Do not ignore health ailments; make sure that when you take your child for his/her regular doc visit, you bring up the colds, coughs and other such seemingly regular health issues.
3. Are there any hereditary factors at play? Well, growth is dependent on factors beyond control, such as heredity and genetics. Certain hereditary factors influence body formation, so you see that tall parents have tall offspring. Sometimes it is not possible to prevent the genetic factors, but it is important to be aware. I would suggest you to review the family tree for any growth-related abnormalities and inform your pediatrician of the same.
4. How is your child faring emotionally? A child needs physical, mental and emotional support for proper growth and development. If your child is extra sensitive, it can have a bearing on his/her growth. Emotional well-being and hormones are closely linked. Stressful family conditions, emotional insecurity, sibling jealousy, peer pressure and so on, can have a negative impact on growth.
5. Is your child getting the right ‘environment’ for growth? The environment around the child during the growing up phase may not be a crucial influencer but can have a bearing on growth. The home atmosphere, parental love and affection, association with sibling, neighbours, peers, teachers, etc. make up the social environment of a child. All these social factors shape the personality of the child, including the physicality (height and weight – broadly).
As your child grows, consider the above-mentioned five growth influencers – and if your child does experience a growth delay, remember that early diagnosis and treatment is the best way to help our child make progress or even to catch up.
Disclaimer: The views, opinions and recommendations expressed in this article are solely those of the author and intended as an educational aid. This is an awareness drive powered by Horlicks Growth Plus to help your child catch up on lost growth. Horlicks Growth plus is clinically proven to show visible signs of growth in six months. You are encouraged to obtain professional advice concerning specific health / medical matters.