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Reality Check: Teasing Over Height

Q. Because she's tall for her age, my 4-year-old is often teased. How can I reassure her about her appearance?

A.
I once asked a friend's little girl, who was also tall for her age, what she wanted to be when she grew up. "Medium," she replied.

Too tall, too small, too skinny, too fat: Too anything is undesirable to young children, who may enjoy having a distinct personality, but don't like standing out too much from the crowd physically. Kids -- and adults -- are often sensitive about their physical traits because they know these qualities can't easily be altered. You can be a wild child one day and a mommy's girl the next, but if you're tall or small you've just got to live with it -- sometimes forever. I still wince when someone remarks on my relative lack of height (5 foot 2), my somewhat prominent posterior, or my "little mouth" (literally, not figuratively, speaking), and I've been living with these characteristics for decades.

So it won't help to pooh-pooh your daughter's concerns. They're real to her; she has to cope with them every day. But you can help her feel more comfortable in her own skin.

My sister-in-law is the medium-size mother of a diminutive daughter. At 7 years old and 35 pounds, Joanna is still the smallest kid in her class, and yet she walks around with a belt-it-out Broadway voice and an air of assumed confidence -- she has it, and she figures other people do too. But Joanna also has been the target of teasing by her peers because of her size. "Joanna likes acting," says Adrienne, "so I decided to try some role playing." Adrienne played a kid calling Joanna "shrimp" or "shorty," and together they crafted a response Joanna felt good about. "We decided that when someone said she was small, she'd say cheerfully, 'Yes, I am, and you're tall!' or whatever observation she could make about the person that wouldn't be malicious -- it was important that she not say something hurtful back." And it's worked. Joanna's upbeat and honest response has nipped most name-calling in the bud.

This same tactic could very well work for your daughter. By "owning" her tallness -- taking charge of it -- and then admiring her friend's height or lack of, she turns the whole thing into a great big nonissue: "I'm tall, you're small...whatever."

Contributing editor Trisha Thompson is a former editor-in-chief of BabyTalk magazine.

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