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Growth and Development Back to Course Index



                                                                       Growth and Development




A child’s growth and development may be divided into four periods: infancy, the preschool years, the middle childhood years, and adolescence. Other changes occur in our bodies well beyond adolescence.



What Is Growth?  5

An individual’s physical growth refers to the increases in height and weight and other body changes that occur as they mature.  From conception, when a single cell becomes a complex organism in which billions of cells work in concert.  to death, the changes that occur in a body are too numerous to count…hair grows; teeth come in, come out, and come in again…sometimes come out again, puberty to menopause; it’s all part of the growth process.

The first year of an infant’s life is a time of astonishing change. During this time, a baby will grow rapidly. On average, babies grow 10 inches (25 centimeters) in length while tripling their birth weights by their first birthday.

Given all the growth that occurs in the first year of life, new parents may be surprised when their child doesn’t continue to grow through the roof. But no child continues the rate of growth experienced during infancy. After age 1, a baby’s growth in length slows considerably, and by 2 years, growth in height usually continues at a fairly steady rate of approximately 2 1/2 inches (6 centimeters) per year until adolescence. 

A major growth spurt occurs at the time of puberty. Usually kids enter puberty between age 8 to 13 years in girls and 10 to 15 years in boys. Puberty lasts about 2 to 5 years. This growth spurt is associated with sexual development, which includes the appearance of pubic and underarm hair, the growth and development of sex organs, and in girls, the onset of menstruation.

Approximately 2 years after puberty at about the age of 15 or 16 for girls and  16 to 18 for the growth associated with puberty will have ended for most teens and they will have reached physical maturity.

Once our genes have orchestrated the growth and development of the body to the point that it can reproduce, the primary purpose for growth is complete. Nutrition can have profound effects on ones final growth stature though along with other variables such as lifestyle and exercise. Exercise can stimulate growth as long as it is not “overdone” and a healthy drug free lifestyle also comes with numerous growth cycle benefits.

Factors to Ensure Proper Growth and Development  3

There are several things that can help ensure proper growth  and development. 

  • Enough Rest – Sleep patterns vary by age and individual child, but most kids need an average of 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night. Sleep gives growing bodies the rest they need to continue growing properly.

Averages by age:

1 week

16.5 hrs

1 month

15.5 hrs

3 months

15 hrs

6 months

14.25 hrs

12 months

13.75 hrs

2 years

13 hrs

4 years

11-12 hrs

5 years

11 hrs

10 years

9.75 hrs


7.5 hrs (school night)


8.75 hrs (weekend)


  • Proper Nutrition – A balanced diet full of essential vitamins and minerals will help an individual reach his or her full growth potential.

Nutrient needs correspond with these changes in rates of growth, with an infant needing more calories for his or her size than a preschooler or school-aged child would need. Nutrient needs then increase as a child approaches adolescence.

Generally a healthy child will follow his or her own growth curve, in spite of variable nutrient intake. Parents and care givers should provide appropriate diets for age and be sure the diet offers a wide variety of foods to ensure nutritional adequacy.

Malnutrition has been associated with serious problems related to intellectual development. A child who is undernourished may experience early fatigue and may be unable to fully participate in learning experiences at school. Additionally, malnutrition can contribute to increased susceptibility to illness, causing a child to frequently miss school.

Children who are undernourished have unacceptable growth patterns accompanied by scholastic underachievement. A good variety of food choices and adequate intake are essential to achieving optimal intellectual development. Breakfast is particularly important as children may feel fatigued, sleepy, and unmotivated when breakfast is skimpy or is skipped altogether.

Nutrition is considered critical enough to intellectual development that government programs have been put in place to insure at least one healthy balanced meal a day for appropriate groups of children. This is usually breakfast, as the relationship between breakfast and improved learning has been clearly demonstrated. These programs are available in impoverished and underserved areas of the country.

  • Adequate Exercise Because obesity is a growing problem in kids, parents should make sure that their children exercise regularly, as well as receive proper nutrition. Bicycling, hiking, in-line skating, sports, or any enjoyable activity that will motivate your kid to get moving will promote good health and fitness and help your child maintain a healthy weight.


Failure to Thrive in Children and the Elderly

Children who fail to thrive don’t receive or are unable to take in, retain, or utilize the calories needed to gain weight and grow as expected.

Most diagnoses of failure to thrive are made in infants and toddlers – in the first few years of life – a crucial period of physical and mental development. After birth, a child’s brain grows as much in the first year as it will grow during the rest of the child’s life. Poor nutrition during this period can have permanent negative effects on a child’s mental development.

Whereas the average term baby doubles his or her birth weight by 4 months and triples it at 1 year, children with failure to thrive often don’t meet those milestones. Sometimes, a child who starts out “plump” and who shows signs of growing well can begin to fall off in weight gain. After a while, linear (height) growth may slow as well.

If the condition progresses, the undernourished child may:

  • become disinterested in his or her surroundings
  • avoid eye contact
  • become irritable
  • not reach developmental milestones like sitting up, walking, and talking at the usual age


In elderly patients, failure to thrive describes a state of decline that is multifactorial and may be caused by chronic concurrent diseases and functional impairments. Manifestations of this condition include weight loss, decreased appetite, poor nutrition, and inactivity. Four syndromes are prevalent and predictive of adverse outcomes in patients with failure to thrive: impaired physical function, malnutrition, depression, and cognitive impairment.


The Brain and Its Development    6

This section comes from The Secret of the Brain


A baby’s brain is a mystery whose secrets scientists are just beginning to unravel. The mystery begins in the womb — only four weeks into gestation the first brain cells, the neurons, are already forming at an astonishing rate: 250,000 every minute. Billions of neurons will forge links with billions of other neurons and eventually there will be trillions and trillions of connections between cells. Every cell is precisely in its place, every link between neurons carefully organized. Nothing is random, nothing arbitrary.

One way a newborn is introduced to the world is through vision. The eyes and the visual cortex of an infant continue to develop after birth according to how much stimulation she can handle. What happens to the brain when a baby is born with a visual abnormality? Infant cataracts pose an interesting challenge to scientists: How to remove the visual obstruction without compromising brain development.

When we are babies, our brains are more open to the shaping hand of experience than at any time in our lives. In response to the demands of the world, the baby’s brain sculpts itself. Scientists have begun to understand how that happens, but as Neurologist Carla Shatz says, “There’s a great mystery left. Our memories and our hopes and our aspirations and who we love all of that is in there encoded in the circuits. But we only have the barest beginnings of an understanding about how the brain really works.”


A child’s brain is a magnificent engine for learning. A child learns to crawl, then walk, run and explore. A child learns to reason, to pay attention, to remember, but nowhere is learning more dramatic than in the way a child learns language. As children, we acquire language — the hallmark of being human.



In nearly all adults, the language center of the brain resides in the left hemisphere, but in children the brain is less specialized. Scientists have demonstrated that until babies become about a year old, they respond to language with their entire brains, but then, gradually, language shifts to the left hemisphere, driven by the acquisition of language itself.

The adult brain is the apotheosis of the human intellect, but what of emotion? The study of emotion was once relegated to the backwaters of neuroscience, a testament to the popular conception that what we feel exists outside our brains, acting only to intrude on normal thought. The science has changed: Emotion is now considered integral to our over-all mental health. In mapping our emotions, scientists have found that our emotional brain overlays our thinking brain: The two exist forever intertwined.



But if the left hemisphere becomes the language center for most adults, what happens if in childhood it is compromised by disease? Brain seizures such as those resulted by epilepsy and Rasmussen’s syndrome, have a devastating effect on brain development in some children.

teenagers brain:
When examining the adolescent brain we find mystery, complexity, frustration, and inspiration. As the brain begins teeming with hormones, the prefrontal cortex, the center of reasoning and impulse control, is still a work in progress. For the first time, scientists can offer an explanation for what parents already know — adolescence is a time of roiling emotions, and poor judgment. Why do teenagers have distinct needs and behaviors? Why, for example, do high school students have such a hard time waking up in the morning? Scientists have just begun to answer questions about the purpose of sleep as it relates to the sleep patterns of teenagers.

A major challenge to the adolescent brain is schizophrenia. Throughout the world and across cultural borders, teenagers from as early as age 12 suffer from this brain disorder.

The adult brain is the apotheosis of the human intellect, but what of emotion? The study of emotion was once relegated to the backwaters of neuroscience, a testament to the popular conception that what we feel exists outside our brains, acting only to intrude on normal thought. The science has changed: Emotion is now considered integral to our over-all mental health. In mapping our emotions, scientists have found that our emotional brain overlays our thinking brain: The two exist forever intertwined.


There is a critical interplay between reason and emotion. We are well aware of how brain malfunctions can cause pain, depression, and emotional paralysis. We must also understand that the brain affects positive emotional responses such as laughter, excitement, happiness, and love. Scientists have been able to pinpoint the section of the brain that causes laughter (with no intention of finding a cure!)



 “Emotions are not the intangible and vaporous qualities that many presume them to be. Brain systems work together to give us emotions just as they do with sight and smell. If you lose the ability to feel, your life, and the lives of people around you, can be devastated.” — Antonio R. Damasio


At the age of 95, Stanley Kunitz was named poet laureate of the United States. Still writing new poems, still reading to live audiences, he stands as an inspiring example of the brain’s ability to stay vital in the final years of our lives.

The latest discoveries in neuroscience present a new view of how the brain ages. Overturning decades of dogma, scientists recently discovered that even into our seventies, our brains continue producing new neurons. Scientists no longer hold the longstanding belief that we lose vast numbers of brain cells as we grow older. The normal aging process leaves most mental functions intact, and may even provide the brain with unique advantages that form the basis for wisdom. The aging brain is also far more resilient than was previously believed.



Despite this, many people still suffer from the disease most associated with aging — Alzheimer’s. Recently scientists have made groundbreaking discoveries regarding the disease’s causes and preventions. What lies ahead in the field of Alzheimer’s research?




References and Recommended Reading

Dowshen, Steven, MD, Your Childs Growth, www.kidshealth .org,  November 2007