Find Out How to Spot the Signs and What You Can Do to Reassure Your Child
Picture day has come and gone, and your child has finally brought home the crinkled cellophane-covered envelope full of individual shots and the class picture. Your child points out each of his classmates, and you notice something disturbing. Your little one is much shorter than his classmates.
Many parents worry about their child being a late bloomer, but McLane Children’s Scott & White pediatrician Matthew B. Bierwirth, MD, said most of the time there’s nothing to worry about. But having your child evaluated by a doctor will help put your mind at ease and reassure your child that he or she is normal.
What is a late bloomer?
“A late bloomer is a child who doesn’t start growing or going through puberty on time,” Dr. Bierwirth said. “If a girl doesn’t have breast development by age 14 or a boy doesn’t start testicular development by 14-years-of-age, then that is concerning.”
But many parents will notice their late-blooming child is behind before they reach the age of 14.
Why do some kids develop later than others?
“The most common reason is called constitutional growth delay, which is basically the medical term for a late bloomer,” Dr. Bierwirth said. “Heredity can also play a part in growth delays.”
If mom and dad were late bloomers, then there’s a good chance one or more of their children will be as well.
But, even if the child is behind his classmates, that doesn’t mean he’s abnormal. It just means they are taking longer to develop.
What can parents do to reassure their children that they are normal?
“Often times, it’s a good idea to bring the child to the doctor,” the pediatrician said. “We can do a few simple tests to reassure them and their parents.”
One of the methods physicians use to alleviate growth fears is to perform what is called a “bone age” test. This is where a doctor takes an X-ray of the child’s hand to determine their bone age.
“If a child is 12 and he’s a late bloomer, then his bone age might be that of a 10-year-old,” Dr. Beirwirth said. “So, that shows us that there’s a lot more growth left.”
While his or her peers with a normal bone age may stop growing, these late bloomers will keep growing.
“Sometimes it’s helpful to hear this from someone who’s not your parent,” he said.
What should a parent do if they are concerned with their child’s development?
If you are concerned, Dr. Bierwirth suggests making an appointment with your child’s doctor.
“Nine times out of ten there’s nothing wrong—the child will eventually grow,” he said. “But if there is something wrong—like a hormone growth issue or thyroid disease—the doctor will be able to pick up on it.”
Parents should also think about their own growth and development: Was I a short kid who hit a growth spurt in high school or after? Did I develop later than your peers? Sometimes the best predictor of your child’s development is in the assessment of your own.
And Dr. Bierwirth said that if parents are concerned about the growth of their children, they should be mindful of the foods they are putting on the table.
“We always tell parents that they need to provide healthy building blocks for their children,” he said. “And we tell kids that when their parents say, eat your vegetables, it is really important. It’s not just because they’re trying to be mean.”
For more information about your child’s growth, make an appointment with your McLane Children’s pediatrician.
Dr. Bierwirth contributed to this article. After many years as a pediatrician in Temple, he will be moving his practice to the McLane Children’s Clinic at MacArthur Center in Waco as of April 1, 2013.