Our words and actions can have lifelong impacts on our children.

I can still remember a powerful body-shaming message that I received when I was younger.

It was like yesterday that my ballet teacher told me, in front of the entire class, that I must slim down because all ballet dancers are thin. I was ten years old, at the very beginning of puberty, and never set foot in that ballet school again!

Growth spurts in children are common, and many parents wonder when they should be concerned and what to do if you are worried.

There are  many  helpful and non-helpful strategies to do, keep on reading to learn more about each so that you can make sure your words and actions are having a positive effect on your children.

The first thing every parent or guardian should do is…

Recognize that Growth Spurts are Common in Adolescence

A significant growth spurt usually occurs during middle school, which can be a source of confusion for both kids and parents. It’s important to remember that this is a normal part of puberty.

Appetite soars in preparation for a growth spurt, and it’s not uncommon for many tweens and teens to get heavier before they grow taller!

All parts of a child’s body change and it is not unusual to see even a fifteen-pound weight gain over a relatively short period of time with some adolescents gaining upwards of 40 or more pounds during this process.

Your child’s healthcare provider will measure height and weight annually during their wellness visit.

A BMI (body mass index) measurement can notice patterns in your child’s weight and height. Used correctly, it can help identify weight gain and potential correlation with your child’s natural range on the growth chart over the years.

Although widely used, BMI  is a flawed measure as it was never meant to be used as an individual’s assessment tool; it overlooks factors like body composition changes during growth spurts, differences in ethnic backgrounds, and genetics.

More importantly, it can misclassify children’s weight status, leading to unnecessary concern or neglect.

As a parent, you play a crucial role in understanding and supporting your child’s growth. The growth chart may reflect a jump in weight range but not height in this prepubescent phase. It’s your responsibility to determine if this weight gain is necessary in preparation for puberty or if it results from your preadolescent’s habits and behaviors.

When Should You Be Concerned about Your Child’s Weight?

If your daughter or son reports eating due to increased appetite, you can surmise this is puberty related.

However, noticing that they  eat when procrastinating, studying, or eating with friends, even after a family dinner, may reflect behavioral eating.

Or, if your child eats every time they are sad or stressed with homework, this may indicate eating for emotional reasons and not as a physical response to increasing energy needs for puberty.

If it is an actual physical need. Let your child enjoy their body and help prep them for more changes while experiencing puberty. However, if you observe a trend of behavioral and emotional eating, especially of foods low on nutrient density, it’s crucial to have a calm and neutral conversation about self-care, coping skills, and eating for physical reasons. This open communication can empower you as a parent to guide your child towards healthier habits.

help child with healthy growth and eating habits

If after all of this, you still have concerns about your child’s proper growth and development, then  it may be worth talking to a physician or registered dietitian specializing in pediatric nutrition and intuitive eating.

Please keep in mind that kids and teens have just gone through a very stressful time in their young lives due to the COVID pandemic; If you are worried that any recent changes in your household could be contributing factors to less-healthy eating behaviors, consult with a mental health professional trained in disordered eating and adolescents about your concerns.

Open and non-judgmental communication about body and
food choices with your tween or teen is crucial.

It significantly impacts their self-esteem and future relationship with their body and food. Encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment.

6 Strategies That Are NOT Helpful for Your Child:

  1. Do not talk about their eating habits ALL THE TIME.
  2. Do not nag or preach to “eat less.”
  3. Do not put your preteen or teen on a diet.
  4. Do not bribe or reward them with food.
  5. Do not reward or comment on weight loss/weight gain.
  6. Do not weigh your daughter/son.

These strategies can lead a vulnerable child towards disordered eating and poor body image.

When parents restrict their child’s food intake this often backfires, rather than teaches them to listen to hunger and fullness levels!

Kids with restricted diets often end up eating secretly and eating larger quantities of food than their body needs, which can lead to weight gain. You can read more in this article, “3 Steps to Help Your Teens Improve their Body Image.”

Let’s look at positive ways you can support and help your children during growth spurts.

12 Strategies to Help your Child During Growth Spurts

  1. Do not panic! Explain calmly that weight gain is expected before and during puberty.
  2. Help your child to identify if a dramatic change in body weight is related to:
    • Puberty
    • Something else, such as emotional eating due to school stress
    • Behavioral eating when with friends after school
    • Less physical activity than usual
  3. Focus on habits, such as recognizing hunger and fullness, rather than focusing on external numbers, such as body weight.
  4. Lead by example and be a positive role model for healthy eating and exercising.
  5. If your child is gaining weight due to emotional eating, help them develop coping skills and healthy ways to express their emotions, and provide a listening ear.
  6. Prepare home-cooked meals and have family dinners as often as possible.
  7. Stock your pantry and refrigerator with nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish, and dairy products.
  8. Help your tween or teen learn to eat various foods without labeling any foods as “good or bad.”
  9. Help your tween or teen learn to differentiate between eating foods for fuel and for pleasure and enjoyment (“fun foods”).
  10. Do explain that people naturally come in all shapes and sizes.
  11. Do accept your child for changes in their natural body weight.
  12. Teach honor and respect to our body through self-care.

Whether your child is gaining weight in preparation for puberty, by emotional / behavioral eating, or through problems with regulating their sense of hunger and fullness, it’s essential to make home a haven of love and support.

Your role as a parent is crucial in creating a positive environment that fosters healthy growth and eating habits. Offer hope and guidance in a non-judgmental way and speak to a health professional if you need more support about how you as a family can best help your child.

If you need help during this challenging time, please reach out to us, we are here to help and specialize in working with families and youth to ensure everyone is supported during those growth spurts and beyond.

10 Tips to Help Your Child Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food

You can also download our free guide, 10 Tips to Help Your Child Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food.