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Physical Development: Average Growth

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Tween team workimage by The Presbyterian Church of Wyoming (lic)Children's bodies change a lot during middle childhood.

During middle childhood, children's bones broaden and lengthen dramatically. In general, children will grow an average of 2-3 inches taller each year throughout this period. As young children enter this stage, boys are generally taller than girls. However, by the end of middle childhood, this trend reverses and girls will generally be taller than boys.

Sometimes, children of this age will complain about pain in their arms and legs. These "growing pains" are indeed real and affect between 25% and 40% of all children between the ages of 8 and 12, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Growing pains are caused by bone growth that outpaces the growth of surrounding muscles and tendons, causing a subsequent stretching of the muscles and tendons. These pains are usually harmless, and not a cause for worry. Parents can soothe children's growing pains by offering light massage, warm baths, and heating pads. If growing pains do not respond to these home remedies, or they start to interfere with children's daily activities, parents should consider consulting with a pediatrician for additional treatment suggestions.

During middle childhood, children's permanent adult teeth begin to push through the gums, loosening and replacing the "baby teeth" already in place. Children typically lose their incisors (the teeth in the front) first, around age 6. The molars (teeth in the back) are the last to loosen, normally around ages 10 to 12. Temporary pain or swelling may be associated with this process, as the new teeth push through the gums. Sore gums can be treated using over the counter numbing gels, typically found in the baby section of the grocery store or drugstore. Parents should consult with a dentist in the event that children report severe tooth, gum or mouth pain, or pain that does not go away after a few days.

Both boys and girls are building muscle throughout the middle childhood years. On average, children will gain 6-7 pounds a year, each year during middle childhood. Girls tend to retain more fatty tissue than boys in preparation for puberty. As a result, during this age stage, girls will often look rounder and softer than boys.

As they near puberty, it is common for children to start feeling awkward or confused about their bodies (and how they compare to their friends' bodies). In addition to their own experience of physical changes, children will also often have picked up misconceptions about the meaning of puberty and sexuality which may further alarm them. Parents can help children cope with their rapidly changing bodies by paying attention to how these changes are progressing and being willing and able to talk with children about the meaning of these changes. For more information about the bodily changes associated with puberty, as well as how children change emotionally and mentally during this time, please see our Puberty article. We discuss the impact of these changes on children's developing sexual identity.