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Reality Check: Big for His Age

Q. My 3-year-old looks like he's 6, so people expect him to act more mature. How can I make them see that his behavior is age-appropriate?

So often it's the misguided grown-ups around a child who need constant reminding that just because a person wears a size 6, that doesn't mean he's 6.

Madeline, our eldest, has always been big for her age. I remember times when I couldn't decide who I was more annoyed with, my screaming toddler or the grown-ups who would react to her tantrums with that condescending tone of feigned surprise and mockery they normally reserved for much older kids who misbehave. "You're too big to act like a baby!" they'd say. "Well, no, she is a baby," I wanted to yell. And then as soon as I was finished mentally defending her, I'd imagine myself wringing my little monster's neck for causing a scene in the first place.

Eventually, I came up with a few strategies to deal. I would say aloud to whoever was listening, "Oh boy, this is some classic three-year-old behavior," to remind us all that my "big girl" was still quite little inside.

I also made a point of choosing clothes for her that looked like items kids age 3 or 4 should be wearing (unlike those belly-button tops all the first-graders were sporting). Dressing your age has at least a subliminal effect on how people think of you.

I also posted on our refrigerator a baby photo of Madeline. She's 11 now (and looks 14), and that picture still reminds me that growing up takes a long time, and that no matter how big she gets, she'll always be my baby.