and Physical Development
childhood's slow, steady growth occurs until the onset of
puberty, which occurs late in middle childhood or in early
adolescence. Children gain an average of 7 pounds in weight,
and 2 1/2 inches in height, per year. They have growth spurts,
which are usually accompanied by an increase in appetite
and food intake. Conversely, a child's appetite and food
intake decrease during periods of slower growth.
and body shape remain relatively constant during middle childhood.
During preadolescence and early adolescence (9 to 11 years
in girls; 10 to 12 years in boys), the percentage of body
fat increases in preparation for the growth spurt that occurs
during adolescence. This body fat increase occurs earlier
in girls than in boys, and the amount of increase is greater
in girls. Preadolescents, especially girls, may appear to
be "chunky," but this is part of normal growth and development.
During middle childhood, boys have more lean body mass per
inch of height than girls. These differences in body composition
become more significant during adolescence.
During middle childhood,
children may become overly concerned about their physical
appearance. Girls especially may become concerned that they
are overweight and may begin to eat less. Parents should
reassure their daughters that an increase in body fat during
middle childhood is part of normal growth and development
and is probably not permanent. Boys may become concerned
about their stature and muscle size and strength.
During middle childhood,
children's muscle strength, motor skills, and stamina increase.
Children acquire the motor skills necessary to perform complex
movements, allowing them to participate in a variety of physical
For females, most
physical growth is completed by 2 years after menarche. (The
mean age of menarche is 12 1/2 years.) Males begin puberty
about 2 years later than females. Before puberty, there are
no significant differences between boys and girls in height,
weight, strength, endurance, and motor skill development.
Therefore, throughout middle childhood, boys and girls can
participate in physical activity on an equal basis. Late-maturing
children, who have a prolonged period of prepubertal growth,
usually have longer limbs than other children and often attain
A temporary decline
in coordination and balance may occur during puberty because
of rapid growth. Some children may be unable to perform a
physical activity as well as they did the previous year.
This can be frustrating for children, parents, and teachers,
particularly if they misinterpret this decline as a lack
of skill or effort.
boys have a temporary physical advantage over other boys
their age because they are taller, heavier, and stronger.
These boys usually achieve the most success in physical activity
programs (e.g., hockey, football, basketball), which may
lead to unrealistic expectations that they will continue
to be outstanding athletes. Conversely, late-maturing boys
have a temporary physical disadvantage. These boys may achieve
the most success in physical activities in which size is
not important (e.g., racquet sports, martial arts, running,
For girls, the
onset of puberty is associated with an increase in body fat
that may result in a decline in physical activity performance.
Girls, parents, and teachers need to understand, and girls
need to accept, the physical changes of puberty, because
attempts to prevent these changes can lead to dieting or
eating disorders. In addition, the increase in body fat and
decrease in muscle flex may result in less fluid movements
during the growth spurt and may increase the risk of overuse
injuries in girls. Girls entering puberty are at particularly
high risk for dropping out of physical activities, making
anticipatory guidance particularly important to encourage