The Tall and Short of It

High Anxiety

Tall kids might seem to be on top of the world, but height has its downsides. Because they look older than their years, adults -- and even peers -- often expect them to behave more maturely. When Marissa Cooper, then 3, had a perfectly age-appropriate meltdown in a mall in Greenwood, Indiana, her mom, Heather, got snippy comments from strangers who assumed the girl was at least 5. "A woman said loudly to her friend, 'Isn't she a little old for tantrums?'" says Cooper. Now 6, Marissa is as tall as many 9-year-old girls, and that complicates playdates. Kids her age assume an "older" child won't want to play with them and are intimidated by her size, while kids her height find her too immature. "It's tough being a tall girl, and it just gets worse during the dating years," says Cooper, who's 5'8" and knows from her own childhood experience.

Life's not a slam dunk for tall boys either. Adults generally expect that they're great at sports, but that's not necessarily true. Answering nonstop inquiries about his athletic abilities can be stressful for a child who's already tired of being singled out for his size.

And then there's bullying. "When you're 8 but look 10, older kids like to challenge you. They'll say, 'So I bet you think you're as tough as me. Prove it,'" says Carleton Kendrick, a family therapist in Boston who was the tallest kid in his class. Still, tall kids have been known to throw their height around. A study at the University of Southern California found that both boys and girls who stand a mere half-inch taller than their peers at age 3 tend to be more aggressive by age 11. Experts speculate that tall boys and girls have higher testosterone levels, which contributes to aggressiveness. Or it could also be that tall kids learn early on to use force to get what they want. When your child gets sick of all the bean-stalk remarks, try these tactics.

Take it as a compliment. Encourage your child to be proud of her height. Your daughter might say: "Thanks for noticing. I take after my dad," or "My grandma is tall too."

Tell your own tall tales. Know what it's like to stick out in a crowd? Share what you liked about being a tall child: You could sit in the back row and still see over classmates' heads. You could ride anything at the amusement park.

Rebound from stereotypes. Your child doesn't have to explain that he's not into basketball or other sports. He can just say, "No, I don't play," and mention what he does like to do: "I love to ride my bike," or "I'm really good at math."

Whether your child is tall or short or somewhere in between, remind him that all kids are teased for some reason or another, suggests Dr. Dreyer. And try to help him see his height isn't such a huge deal. Where bigness really counts -- in terms of kindness, generosity, intelligence, and love -- is on the inside.

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