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The Tall and Short of It

"You must play basketball!" "How's the air up there?" At 5 feet 4 inches, 9-year-old Maggie Belensz has heard every joke in the book. Not surprisingly, "she gets a little tired of it," says her mom, Louise, of Ballston Lake, NY.

At this age, some kids return from summer break having sprouted a foot, while others remain shorter. If yours feels self-conscious being the tallest -- or shortest -- in her class, here's how to help:

"Talk frankly"
In the real world, people do judge others on appearance, so avoid platitudes like "Size doesn't matter." Acknowledge the problem by saying, "It can be tough to stand out, can't it?" You might point out a physical flaw that you're insecure about to show her that even adults worry about their looks.

"Arm her with comebacks"
If your child is being teased about her height, a little self-deprecation -- "The air up here is much better, thanks" -- or a good-humored jab at her critic -- "How do you get any sun down there?"-- can help disarm her attackers. Or have her remind her peers of cool celebrities who are shorter (Frankie Muniz) or taller (Katie Holmes) than the norm.

"Focus on what she can control"
Although growth spurts are unpredictable, explain to your child that she can develop her body in other ways. Being active -- whether it's going for a walk with friends or family, joining a team sport, or trying a dance class -- teaches children to be confident and proud of their bodies, regardless of their size.