When Size Matters

My brother stands tall at 6 feet 6 inches, while my sister still fits into clothes from the Juniors department — she’s 5 feet 4 inches. Me? I’m 5 feet 11 inches. When we were young, people approached my folks and compared our heights. They’d point toward my younger sister and observe, “Why, she’s a lot shorter than the other two.” My parents grinned and said, “That’s because we ran out of Weed-n-Feed for her.”  

Early Acceptance
Unfortunately, children growing up on an extreme side of the growth chart may not think their height is something to joke about. While some thrive on using their differences to stand out in the crowd, others want to fit in. Either way, parents can help children cope with, and conquer, their differences and accept other people’s unique characteristics by following two golden guidelines:

• Model respect. The basis of respect is accepting people for who they are. Parents who model respect for their children at an early age offer them a head start for a healthy self-image. It doesn’t take too much extra effort — by coaching little ones to say “please” and “thank you,” parents teach good manners and respect simultaneously. Or, when a new neighbor moves in, helping kids bake and deliver cookies demonstrates acceptance and basic human compassion.

• Teach diversity. Most parents inherently love their children for who they are, inside and out, including quirky personality and genetic traits. It’s especially important to verbalize that unconditional love when talking about children’s differences or insecurities. Parents can take it one step further by reminding children that everyone has something special about them, whether or not physically noticeable. Invite children’s friends over for get-togethers, and verbally point out positive qualities in each friend.

In the Classroom
Even when equipped with respect and acceptance at home, children need tools and ideas of what to say when they’re with their peers. If a child tires of hearing comments about his or her height, help him or her practice an age-appropriate response to boost confidence.

Elementary-Age Students
Children can state facts as a defense, such as, “I’ve always been short for my age,” and “My mom is short too.” Or, they can point out perks associated with their physique, by saying, “Since I’m tall, I can see over the crowd,” or “Being short means I can jump on my bed and not bump my head.”

Middle and High School Students
Teens can practice keeping cool, walk away and report bullying to teachers. They also can make a connection with positive role models who share their height. The link could be to an admired grandparent or someone famous. There are plenty of successful people of all shapes and sizes — Reese Whitherspoon is 5 feet 2 inches, Pablo Picasso was 5 feet 4 inches, Venus Williams is just over 6 feet, and Abraham Lincoln was 6 feet 4 inches.
If a child still isn’t feeling at ease about his or her height, parents can offer additional support with these strategies:

1. Tell tall-tales. Offer stories and humor of when you were young and either shorter or taller than your friends.
2. Keep it in proportion. I remember telling my mom I didn’t like the width of my hips in middle school. Mom said, “If your arms and torso were long, but your legs and hips didn’t match up, you’d look pretty silly — and you might even fall over.” Seeing the big picture and keeping things in proportion helped.
3. Set sights on strengths. Height is a small part of a whole person, so help your child spend more time focusing on his or her talents.

Around Town
In addition to helping children feel comfortable with their height, it’s also important to help practice how to address social situations that may come up. For example, there’s often a stereotype that tall teens are natural athletes. If acquaintances continuously inquire about a tall teen’s basketball skills when in fact he or she prefers painting, the teen can reply, “I know I look like I can slam-dunk, but I like dabbling in arts more than dribbling a ball.”  Sometimes other parents and peers may expect more mature behavior from a child who looks older. If a 4-year-old is as tall as an average 6-year-old, playground peers and parents may be surprised to see tantrums about sharing in the sandbox.

Speak up for a younger child by intervening when he or she does something wrong, simply stating, “My daughter has always been tall for her age. We’re working on sharing, but it’s not always easy for my 4-year-old. I’m sorry about the squabble.”

Overall, the best remedy for misunderstandings is honesty with a smile. After a genuine explanation, most people quickly will offer empathy — agreeing the size of a person’s heart, kindness and generosity is what matters most.