Student: Five Tips for Parent’s Concerned
about Their Child’s Height
By Ellen Frankel
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
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 pattern, the doctor
will determine whether tests are necessary to detect
any medical problems related to growth.
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
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.
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.
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.
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)