Your child’s endocrine system contains hormone-producing glands that help maintain growth and development, puberty, energy level and mood. Endocrine disorders in children are caused by too many or too few hormones circulating throughout the body. In order for your child’s body to function, everything needs to be working in harmony — that is, the glands need to secrete just the right amount of hormones throughout the blood stream.
Glands in the Endocrine System
The main glands of the endocrine system include:
Other glands that contain endocrine tissue and secrete hormones include:
The endocrine system and the nervous system work closely together. The brain sends messages and receives feedback through a “switchboard” called the hypothalamus (the part of the brain that controls the endocrine system). When this system isn’t working properly, hormone and growth problems can occur.
As kids grow from grade-schoolers to preteens, there continues to be a wide range of "normal" regarding height, weight, and shape.
Kids tend to get taller at a pretty steady pace, growing about 2.5 inches (6 to 7 centimeters) each year. When it comes to weight, kids gain about 4 to 7 lbs. (2 to 3 kg) per year until puberty starts.
This is also a time when kids start to have feelings about how they look and how they're growing. Some girls may worry about being "too big," especially those who are developing early. Boys tend to be sensitive about being too short.
Try to help your child understand that the important thing is not to "look" a certain way, but rather to be healthy. Kids can't change the genes that will determine how tall they will be or when puberty starts. But they can make the most of their potential by developing healthy eating habits and being physically active.
Your doctor will take measurements at regular checkups, then plot your child's results on a standard growth chart to follow over time and compare with other kids the same age and gender.
Helping Your Child Grow
Normal growth — supported by good nutrition, enough sleep, and regular exercise — is one of the best overall indicators of a child's good health.
Your child's growth pattern is largely determined by genetics. Pushing a child to eat extra food or greater than recommended amounts of vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients will not increase his or her height and may lead to weight problems.
By accepting who your child is, you also help your child build self-acceptance.
Puberty — or sexual maturation — is a time of dramatic change for both boys and girls. The age at which the physical changes of puberty normally begin varies widely.
For both sexes, these hormone-driven changes are accompanied by growth spurts that transform children into physically mature teens as their bodies develop.
Breast development, usually the first noticeable sign of puberty in girls, may begin anytime between ages 8 and 13. These characteristics describe the sequence of events in girls as they move through puberty:
Breasts begin to develop and hips become rounded.
The increase in the rate of growth in height begins.
Pubic hair begins to appear, usually 6 to 12 months after the start of breast development. About 15% of girls will develop pubic hair before breast development starts.
The uterus and vagina, as well as labia and clitoris, increase in size.
Pubic hair is well established and breasts grow further.
The rate of growth in height reaches its peak by about 2 years after puberty began (average age is 12 years).
Menstruation begins, almost always after the peak growth rate in height has been reached (average age is 12.5 years).
Once girls start to menstruate, they usually grow about 1 or 2 more inches (2.5 to 5 centimeters), reaching their final adult height by about age 14 or 15 years (younger or older depending on when puberty began).
Most boys show the first physical changes of puberty between ages 10 and 16, and tend to grow most quickly between ages 12 and 15. The growth spurt of boys is, on average, about 2 years later than that of girls. By age 16, most boys have stopped growing, but their muscles will continue to develop.
Other features of puberty in boys include:
The penis and testicles increase in size.
Pubic hair appears, followed by underarm and facial hair.
The voice deepens and may sometimes crack or break.
The Adam's apple, or larynx cartilage, gets bigger.
Testicles begin to produce sperm.
At the Doctor's Office
Despite data collected for growth charts, "normal" heights and weights are difficult to define. Shorter parents, for instance, tend to have shorter kids, whereas taller parents tend to have taller kids.
Although you may worry if your child isn't as tall as other kids that age, the more important question is whether your child is continuing to grow at a normal rate. If your doctor finds a problem — such as a growth rate that had been normal but has recently slowed — he or she may track your child's measurements carefully over several months to see if the growth pattern suggests a possible health problem or is just a variation of normal.
If it's found that your child is growing or developing too slowly, the doctor may order tests to check for medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, growth hormone deficiency, or other things that can affect growth.
If you have any concerns about your child's growth or development, talk with your doctor.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 26, 2016