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August 22, 2006 > The Shorter Student: Five Tips for Parent's Concerned About Their Child's Height

The Shorter Student: Five Tips for Parent's Concerned About Their Child's Height

by Ellen Frankel

Pediatricians often report that at the beginning of each school year, there is an increase in calls from parents worried about their child's height. While moms and dads happily watch their sons and daughters growing over the summer months, many become concerned when they see their child looking shorter than many of their school classmates. Here's how to be sure you're not letting the societal prejudice against those who are short in nature cause you undue concern about your child's height:

1)  Understand the Bell-Shaped Curve: The bell-shaped curve is based on the concept of a normal distribution. When looking at height, the bulk of the population will be in the middle of the curve, fewer will fall away from the center, and still fewer will fall into the tail ends of the curve. If a child falls into the 5% for height, it means that out of one hundred children the same age, ninety-five of them will be taller than him/her. Although many parents are worried about where their child falls on the growth curve, it is the child's rate of growth that is the most important factor to consider when evaluating if the child is growing and developing normally.

Between the ages of three until puberty, the child grows about two inches per year, and then hits a growth spurt during puberty. Whether a child is in the 95%, the 50% or the 5% for height, the important question to ask is whether the child is showing a consistent pattern of growth regardless of the percentile he/she falls into. The pediatrician will measure height at the child's annual physical, and plot that growth on the curve. If the child is not growing in a consistent patter, the doctor will determine whether tests are necessary to detect any medical problems related to growth.

2)  Stay Away From Repeated Measuring: Though parents may continue to worry about their child being short, it is important to make sure that they are not conveying the message to their child that he/she doesn't "measure-up." It's, therefore, best to stay away from repeated measuring. Taking out the tape measure or asking a child to stand against a growth chart on the wall can become a pressure and a stressor for the child, making him/her feel that the parent's acceptance is based, at least in part, on growing taller. Growth is a painstakingly slow process over which parents and children have no control. The information provided at the annual physical should offer the necessary information to assess healthy growing patterns.

3)  Stop Comparing: Along with the potential stress that children can experience with repeated height measuring, there is the pressure that results when comparisons with other siblings or friends are made. Commenting on how much taller a brother or friend is can be experienced by the shorter child as failing in some way. Asking or encouraging your child to stand back to back with someone as a way of assessing differences in height can be a painful situation for many children. It's also important to make sure other adults in the child's life are not engaging in such behavior, or making negative comments about being short.

4)  Keep a Boundary Between Parental Concerns and Child Concerns Regarding Height: Studies have found that parents are often more worried and concerned about their child's short stature than their child is about his/her own height. Perhaps parents, when looking toward the future, worry that the prejudice against short people will hurt their child both socially and professionally. Parents may inadvertently give the child the message that being short is a problem, when to the child, that may not be the case.

Open communication is key. Asking the child to talk about how he/she feel about his/her height, or what he/she likes, or dislikes, about being short will help the child explore his/her feelings in a safe environment. It is also a wonderful opportunity for parents to discuss heightism in particular, and prejudice in general, in order to help the child discover ways to promote tolerance for him/herself and for others. If parents become aware of any bullying the child is facing at school, it is important to make an appointment to discuss this issue with the principal and guidance counselor. The message from the family and at school should be one of acceptance and celebration for people of all shapes and sizes.

5)  Be Aware of the Language You Use: We live in a culture where heightism exists, yet is rarely discussed. Our language often mirrors this cultural bias. People tend to celebrate the tall and ridicule the short. It's important to examine the way height is discussed. Does your language reflect a glorification of the tall or a bias against the short* If another family member or friend puts someone down based on height, it's important to discuss why such comments are unacceptable. Make a point of talking about different people you admire who exemplify all different shapes and sizes.


As a culture, we have been taught to believe that one body type is better than another body type. This type of thinking is harmful to everyone. It is important to remember that self-esteem and self-worth cannot be assessed through inches. As the school year begins, celebrate your child's growth in his/her wholeness. What makes your child special? What are your child's interests? Hopes? Dreams? Weaknesses? Strengths? What makes your child laugh? Cry? What are the gifts that your child has to offer to the world? A tape measure can never begin to measure the fullness of your child. Raising healthy kids means loving and accepting who they are and watching the beauty unfold as they grow into themselves.

Ellen Frankel, LCSW is the author of Beyond Measure: A Memoir About Short Stature and Inner Growth, (Pearlsong Press 2006). You can visit her website at: www.beyondmeasureamemoir.com

 
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