Every literature on children reassure parents time and again that each child is unique and hence should not be compared with another. But when you notice that your child is the shortest in his class AND play group AND is shorter than some of the kids younger than him, panic strikes. Add to this the TV commercials that woo all the parents whose children might be shorter, and put you in the frame of being careless since you do not feed your children the health drink they advertise. Infact, short stature is one of the most common reasons an otherwise child is taken to the pediatrician for a checkup! So this topic definitely deserves more attention.
How tall is tall? How short is short? Height is a perception, which is founded in the gender, ethnicity and family background of a child. Medically, someone is said to be of “short height”. If his/her height is two standard deviations below the average height for his/her age and sex. Statistically 3 percentile of the population is shorter for every age-gender group. To break this down for easy understanding, in a group of 100 children of same age and sex, 3 will be considered as having a short stature than other 97. Your child might be one of these 3 – but that does not mean something is wrong with him/her. As long as the child continues to grow steadily (albeit slower than his peers), he is considered normal. In some rare instances, an underlying medical condition could be the reason for the shorter height – more on this in the following sections.
Most hospitals provide the parents with a “growth chart” that tracks the height, weight and head circumference of their new born till the age of 2 or 3 against a “range” that would define the percentile your child is in. You can also download these growth charts online. The “range” here is mostly determined by what is seen normally among bottle-fed Caucasian kids. So firstly, do not treat it as gospel truth – it is only an indicator. The growth charts will have five trend lines – these are 97th, 75th, 50th, 25th and 3rd percentile lines. If your child’s height is, for example, on the 75th percentile line, then it means that for every 100 child of his age, he is taller than 75 of them. This way you can roughly track your child’s height relative to his peers. If your child’s height falls below the 3rd percentile line, then the child is considered short for his age.
Firstly, it is important to understand why your child is short. It could be mostly one of the below two reasons:
Rarely, yes. This is usually identified by a growth that is too slow or non-existent. The height-line of such a child continues to drop in the growth chart. There are a number of health situations that can shunt growth.
Remember these are very rarely the reasons for the short height.
If you or your doctor feels there is a cause of concern and your child is shorter than any realistic expectations based on heights of close blood relatives, then the doctor will first spend months tracking your child’s height measurements. A short child who is otherwise healthy and growing at a normal rate does not require any additional testing.
However, if the child is growing slower than expected, or has stopped growing, requires further investigation, especially by an endocrinologist. He might ask for blood tests to look for hormonal or chromosomal disorders and bone age x-rays to detect development delays. He might also order an MRI to rule out any abnormalities in the pituitary gland. The doctor will prescribe a treatment depending on the root cause of short height. It might involve growth-hormone therapy.
If there are no medical conditions, then ensure normal growth by providing good nutrition, sleep and exercise. Do not push your child to have extra food, vitamins, milk or health drinks – this will not increase your child’s height. A well balanced diet coupled with lots of sports and exercises will make your child physically fit. Ensure that your child maintains a correct posture, and help him develop a strong immune system. Never compare your child with others and do not hit his confidence levels. You should understand that processes like growth are genetically programmed. Ensure that you do not poke fun of your child’s height as psychological stress is known to shunt growth. Being short does not undermine an individual’s capabilities and personality. And haven’t you heard, “short men create history!”.
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