Lately, it seems as though your child is looking up to classmates — literally. The other kids in the class have been getting taller and developing into young adults, but your child’s growth seems to be lagging behind. Classmates now tower over your child.
Is something wrong? Maybe, maybe not. Some kids just grow more slowly than others because their parents did, too. But others may have an actual growth disorder, which is any type of problem that prevents kids from meeting realistic expectations of growth, from failure to gain height and weight in young children to short stature or delayed sexual development in teens.
Variations of Normal Growth Patterns
A couple of differences seen in the growth patterns of normal children include these common conditions, which are not growth disorders:
Constitutional growth delay: This condition describes children who are small for their ages but who are growing at a normal rate. They usually have a delayed “bone age,” which means that their skeletal maturation is younger than their age in years. (Bone age is measured by taking an X-ray of the hand and wrist and comparing it with standard X-ray findings seen in kids the same age.)
These children don’t have any signs or symptoms of diseases that affect growth. They tend to reach puberty later than their peers do, with delay in the onset of sexual development and the pubertal growth spurt. But because they continue to grow until an older age, they tend to catch up to their peers when they reach adult height. One or both parents or other close relatives often had a similar “late-bloomer” growth pattern.
Familial (or genetic) short stature: This is a condition in which shorter parents tend to have shorter children. This term applies to short children who don’t have any symptoms of diseases that affect their growth. Kids with familial short stature still have growth spurts and enter puberty at normal ages, but they usually will only reach a height similar to that of their parents.
With both constitutional growth delay and familial short stature, kids and families need to be reassured that the child does not have a disease or medical condition that poses a threat to health or that requires treatment.
However, because they may be short or may not enter puberty when their classmates do, some may need extra help coping with teasing or reassurance that they will go through full sexual development eventually. In a few children who are very short or very late entering puberty, hormone treatment may be helpful.