Newshub headline with Children's Wisconsin logo
Father talking to daughter

Weight changes in kids: Knowing when to act, what to say

Kids change so much as they grow, both in ways that are easy to see and those that aren’t. One of the most visible ways is with their weight. It can be helpful for parents to know about growth patterns and to remember that weight fluctuations are par for the course for childhood and adolescence. It can also help determine when some healthy changes are needed.

Weight patterns

Here are some basic weight patterns kids follow as they grow:

  • A newborn will often lose about 5 to 10 percent of their birth weight, but after about two weeks, they will typically start to gain weight and grow quickly.
  • At 4 to 6 months, a baby’s weight will be about double their birth weight. From 6 to 12 months old, growth slows somewhat.
  • Between ages 1 and 2, a toddler will normally gain only about 5 pounds. Weight gain will usually continue to be about 5 pounds per year from ages 2 to 5.
  • Between ages 2 to 10 years, a child will grow at a steady pace. A final growth spurt begins at the start of puberty, sometime between ages 9 to 15 depending on heredity and gender.
  • Noticeable weight gain may occur prior to a growth spurt as excess fat helps promote growth. As a child goes through puberty, their stores of body fat may change. For example, girls tend to gain more fatty tissue in the hips, thighs and buttocks, while boys may have an increase in fat on their stomachs.

Keep in mind that this is the average trajectory for children and is not going to reflect each child perfectly. In many cases, spurts of rapid growth can be followed by stretches of no measurable growth at all. Growth can also be seasonal, often speeding up during the spring and summer months.

Interpreting growth charts

When it comes to interpreting growth charts, it is far more important to compare a child to himself or herself than to other children. There is not one ideal weight for a child at any age. In fact, there are many different pieces to the puzzle. Height, build and genetics all fit into the picture. Most of the time, if your child is tracking along the same weight curve and their BMI is in a healthy range, there is little cause for concern. It’s when a child rapidly shifts up two or more percentile curves that something may be disrupting their ideal growth. Ask your doctor to talk through your child’s weight, height and BMI growth charts to learn more.

Talking weight with kids

If your child brings up his or her weight or body image as a concern, it’s important to be welcoming and offer responses that are encouraging and supportive without causing self-doubt and worry. Here are some do’s and don’ts:

DO ask questions like “How do you think you could be healthier?” or “What could we do as a family to make better choices?”

DON’T brush off or avoid the topic of weight or body image with statements like “You’re beautiful just the way you are.” or “That’s just the way our family is.” This approach can make kids feel unheard. There is usually a reason (bullying, peer pressure) they are bringing their concern to you in the first place, and closing down the conversation doesn’t allow that reason to be voiced.

DO use body-positive words like “strong,” “fast,” “amazing” and “healthy” when talking about your child’s, other people’s, or your own body.

DON’T use words like “chubby,” “skinny,” “big-boned” or “thin” to talk about anyone’s body, including your own.

DO offer your child nutritious food at meals and snacks, allow occasional treats, and let them recommend ideas for dinner and help you prepare meals

DON’T make special food for your picky eater, allow grazing between scheduled meals and snacks, or comment about how little or much your child eats.

DO direct your encouragement at actions your child can control rather than physical appearance. “You’ve been making such great food choices at the grocery store” instead of “Wow, I can tell you’ve really gotten thinner!”

DON’T use food as a reward. Giving unhealthy food as a reward sends a message that these foods are more valuable or special than healthy ones, a mindset that can stay with a child for life.

Growth is a vital part of life

While frequent changes in height and weight can be met with awkwardness and occasional wardrobe frustrations, growth is a vital part of life. Work with your child to make healthy choices every day. Taking action is always better than brushing off concerns. Help your child understand any physical changes they are experiencing and consistently encourage them to pay attention to and honor their appetite, get plenty of sleep, and make exercise and activity part of their daily life. However, when weight loss or gain is extreme and sudden, don’t hesitate to talk with your child’s doctor and/or ask for a referral to a dietitian who can work with you to identify any underlying conditions or concerns.