Many kids aren’t as tall as their classmates, both boys and girls. Often, parents worry that height might affect their kid’s ability to play sports, how their friends treat them, their self-esteem and even how successful they might be in life. But are their worries justified?
As parents, we want the best for our children. We want to see them succeed in life and be happy. Unfortunately, in our society today, there is often a perception that being taller will make us more successful and happier in life.
Pediatric endocrinologists are experts in our body’s hormones, and we can look at whether the child is growing as they should. If we think there might be a problem, we may order some tests to check markers of growth in the blood and an x-ray of the left hand to understand growth potential and if it’s needed, we can talk about whether growth-promoting therapy might help. Most of the time, there is not a critical disease process that is preventing growth. Children often grow at various rates and times and may be different than their peer group.
Earlier in my career, I was involved in a research project to understand how parents thought a child’s height might affect them as adults. At the start of the study, it was not surprising to see that parents had concerns with their children being short and they felt it did negatively influence self-esteem, playing sports and happiness. The second part of the study occurred 15 years later. We contacted the parents again and asked them the same questions as before but now adjusted for adults (as their previous children were now adults). What was surprising to us, is that most parents' views on being short and how that would affect their child’s happiness had changed. In other words, the parents felt that their children (now adults) were happy and successful no matter what their height became and it didn’t matter if they needed any treatment to help them reach that height or not. The one common thread that we found in the study is that the parents that were referred to an endocrinologist to evaluate their child were more likely to have a positive view on their child's outcome as an adult – no matter the child’s treatment or change in height.
Bottom line, if you are concerned about your child’s growth, talk with your child’s pediatrician. Your child may just be a late bloomer or may have a medical condition we need to address. If the pediatrician is also concerned, they may refer your child to a specialist. This, in turn, helps you feel you are doing everything you can to help your child.
No matter what your child’s height, find other aspects to focus on—schoolwork, friends, hobbies. Emphasizing height too much can be damaging to your child’s self-esteem and confidence.
Thanks to this study, we can reassure parents that attitudes about growth and height may change over time and that most kids will be OK in the long run. Height is just one part of the person they will one day become.