Growth and Development

Growth and Your 2- to 3-Year-Old

During the third year of life, most toddlers gain about 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms) and grow about 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 centimeters).

They're extremely active and mobile, and learning in very physical ways. They're running around and exploring their world, and picking up new skills, like kicking a ball and riding a tricycle.

Your toddler's appetite may vary greatly now, which is common. It is also common for some toddlers to get stuck on one food. Food "jags" usually don't last long if you don't give in to them. To build healthy eating habits, keep serving a variety of nutritious foods and let your child decide which and how much of them to eat.

Although kids come in all shapes and sizes, a healthy toddler should continue to grow at a regular pace. The doctor will measure and weigh your child at routine checkups and plot the results on a growth chart. This lets the doctor track your child's growth over time and spot any trends that need attention.

Helping Kids Grow

Normal growth — supported by good nutrition, plenty of sleep, and regular exercise — is one of the best overall indicators of a child's good health. But your child's growth pattern is largely determined by genetics. Pushing kids to eat extra food or greater than recommended amounts of vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients will not increase their height.

Malnutrition severe enough to affect growth rate is uncommon today in the United States and other developed countries unless a child also has a related chronic illness or disorder.

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 his or her peers or weighs more, the more important question is whether your child is continuing to grow at a normal rate. If, for instance, your child's growth rate had been normal but has recently slowed, the doctor may track your child's measurements over a few months to see whether this is a possible health problem or just a variation of normal.

Most kids who are growing at or below the 5th percentile line on the growth chart are usually following one of these two normal variant growth patterns:

  1. Familial (genetic) short stature. These kids have inherited genes for short stature from their parents. Usually one or both parents, and often other relatives, are short. Although they are shorter than average, they grow at a normal rate and are otherwise healthy, showing no symptoms of medical problems that can affect growth. They generally enter puberty at an average age and reach a final adult height similar to that of their parents. In general, no treatment is recommended or known to be effective in significantly increasing their final adult height.

  2. Constitutional growth delay (delayed puberty). Although they are usually of average size in early infancy, these kids undergo a period of slower-than-average growth between 6 months and 2 years of age, causing them to fall lower on the growth chart. After about age 2 or 3 years, kids with constitutional growth delay will grow at a normal childhood rate until they reach puberty and undergo a growth spurt at a later age than most other teens. Because they start puberty later, they will continue to grow after most teens have stopped, thus "catching up" to their peers in final adult height. Usually, there's a family history of this kind of growth pattern, and in general, there's no need for treatment.

If your child is growing too slowly, your doctor might order tests to determine whether this is related to a medical or genetic condition that would interfere with growth.

Be sure to discuss any concerns you have about your child's growth or development with your doctor.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: January 2015

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses and treatment, consult your doctor.

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