Growing pains: height issues in children

(Photo provided)

Parents have been hitting new heights with their questions about what to do when their child is concerned about being too tall or too short. Well let me size up those questions and provide some information on the topic of growing pains.

What determines your growing pace

Everyone grows at their own pace based on the genes they are born with. These genes determine just how fast your child will grow and how tall they will be. By the way, the two biggest growth spurts for a child occur first in the first year of life, when an infant can grow up to 10 inches in height. The other time is during puberty.

Another factor that can influence growth, in addition to genes, includes nutrition. Occasionally, hormonal imbalances such as problems with thyroid or growth hormone levels in the body, though rare, can also influence growth. Having a chronic illness, such as celiac disease, can also affect height.

What to do if your child is bothered by height

So what do I recommend if your child is bothered by his or her height? First and foremost, talk with your child if you think they are worried about their height. It’s rare that your child has a growth problem that needs medical attention, but if you or your child are worried, have your child’s health care professional help. They can see if the growth in your child’s height is following the normal trajectory on their growth chart. If so, then reassurance is the best plan of action.

If this height trajectory is off, then an X-ray of the hand bones (which best determines skeletal age) and checking hormone levels are probably worth doing. These will help to determine if there is a medical problem hampering your child’s growth.

Healthy growing

One way to ensure the best growth possible is to remind your child that good growth requires healthy nutrition, sleep, and exercise to achieve maximum potential height. There is no evidence that taking extra vitamins or over-the-counter supplements helps. Even if a child feels they are too tall, they should still eat healthy and take care of themselves.

Instilling confidence

No matter whether it’s genes or another cause resulting in a height concern, please make sure your children still feel good about themselves. Point out all the positive things they do. This is really the best way to convince them to stop worrying about how tall or short they are.

In addition, teach them not to react to any bullying or name calling that might occur regarding their height. Remind them if they don’t react, it will make the bullying less exciting, which usually makes the name-callers go away. You can also give them something to say that makes their height into a strength, like “Shortness or tallness is only one of my many special qualities, just as it has been for my parents and grandparents.”

Hopefully tips like these will grow well with you and in turn with your child no matter what their height happens to be.


Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.


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