The Tall and Short of It

Short Stuff

People often presume that short kids -- especially boys -- aren't as popular as tall kids and are often teased, bullied, or depressed about their size. However, one study of almost 1,000 middle- and high-schoolers found that height made little difference in how much classmates like each other. "Short kids tend to be well-adjusted and to have just as many friends as taller classmates," says study author David E. Sandberg, PhD, a pediatric psychologist at the University of Michigan Medical School, in Ann Arbor. "If these older kids are faring okay at a time when height differences are most noticeable and bullying is more of an issue, then younger kids who are short are probably fine too."

Although the study's findings are encouraging, it can still be tough to be little -- particularly if you're a boy. "It's more socially acceptable for a girl to be small than for a boy to be short," says Dr. Dreyer. After all, girls are referred to in flattering ways -- petite, cute -- while boys tend to be called shrimp, shorty, or peewee.

Even parents would rather have tall sons. One study at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia found that boys are taken to growth specialists twice as often as girls are, even though boys aren't more prone to shortness. "Society views tall men as being strong, confident, and desirable, and parents of small boys don't want their sons to have a disadvantage in life," says study author Adda Grimberg, MD, a pediatric endocrinologist.

If your child's on the short side, it can be difficult for you to watch other kids, and even tactless adults, treat him differently because of his size -- especially if you had a similar experience when you were a kid. But if you're overly fixated on his height or get defensive when people comment about it, he could get the message that being small is bad or that his size defines him, says Dr. Grimberg. Instead, give your child the tools he needs to feel good about himself inside and out.

Find areas where he can shine. Small kids can excel at lots of sports, including soccer, gymnastics, and martial arts. But if your child wants to play basketball or volleyball, encourage him to try it. Of course, there are also plenty of nonphysical activities he can get involved in, such as playing a musical instrument or acting in the school play.

Problem-solve. If your child is being picked on, brainstorm solutions together and practice responses so she feels confident sticking up for herself. "Bullies want to get a rise out of their victim. When you don't react or you react unexpectedly, it takes away their fun," says Dr. Dreyer. Some deadpan replies for pint-size taunts: "Thanks a lot, I didn't know I was short" or "Wow, you're really observant."

Encourage him to speak up. When people mistakenly assume that Ethan Udell is only 6 years old, the fourth-grader from Dix Hills, New York, quickly corrects them and gives them something else to talk about. "He tells people, 'I'm actually 9 1/2, and I'm a really good hockey player,'" says his mom, Stacey. Other upbeat responses to try: "Shortness is only one of my great qualities" or "I take after my grandfather."

Respect her age. Don't say that your child is younger than she really is to get discounted tickets to movies or amusement parks. It might save you a few dollars, but it'll cost her self-esteem.

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