By Erin Frankel, author of the Weird series
Height. Let’s talk about it. We’ve heard it a thousand times before, but it never hurts to remind ourselves and the children we love that people come in all different shapes and sizes. Which means, of course, that people come in all different heights.
I’ll take the short end of the stick since that is what I know best. I come from a family of petites, which means that we are short for our age, cute, and not to be taken too seriously. Right? Wrong. It’s time to talk about how we talk about height because the fact is, many children are taunted, teased, and bullied about their stature. So, where do kids who bully learn that being small makes someone game for picking on? Why might they think it’s okay to pat a shorter classmate on the head, exclude someone who is short from their team, or ask, Wait, how tall are you again?
As always, children look to us for cues on how we relate to others. As a general rule, if something is a big deal to us, it will be a big deal to them. The opposite is also true. If something is treated with normalcy, and is a nonissue for us, then chances are good that it will be a nonissue for our children as well. Do we make height an issue without even realizing it? We owe it to kids who are bullied about their height to ask ourselves this question and consider the role that we may play.
Let’s start with language. You observe that one of your child’s classmates is short for his age, and you make it the subject of casual conversation with your child: Poor Johnny, he is so short for his age. He must be a late bloomer. He’s so cute, though . . . Or any other number of judgments that have now served to make Johnny’s height an issue. We must choose our words carefully, because children will not only follow our lead when it comes to the language we use, but take the ball and run with it—sometimes in the wrong direction.
Kids bloom in all different ways and at different times. We do kids a favor when we honor this truth and let them grow as they will. We can choose to notice different things about children. Things they have some control over. How about: Johnny is a really good soccer player or Johnny seems like a nice friend. We live in a culture that rewards growth. We live in a culture that rewards height (as long as it is just the right amount—not too tall, not too short). Taller is often equated with better. Johnny sure is getting big. You sure have grown a lot. Don’t worry, Johnny, you’ll sprout up in a couple of years.
But what about the kids who don’t sprout up? What about the kids who are short and will always be short? What about the kid who knows that he hasn’t grown a lot or even a little, for that matter? That child knows that you aren’t telling the truth, and you’re just trying to make him feel better. But he doesn’t feel better. He feels worse. He is convinced that he has let you down because he doesn’t measure up. Since you keep bringing up his height, it must be important.
So, what can you do to really make him feel better? You can stop talking about his height. And please, if you must ask what grade he is in, stop yourself short of guessing the grade: Try What grade are you in? rather than Are you in third grade, sweetie? The child who stands before you may be well ahead of the grade you have taken it upon yourself to guess. While you may not intend to hurt his feelings, you will have succeeded in doing so if you are off by a long shot.
And speaking of sweetie, would you be just as likely to use that word with a taller child? If we ask our children to think twice before speaking and acting, then we must learn to do the same. Let’s heighten our sensitivity and ask ourselves if we should . . .
- Line kids up tallest to shortest?
- Guess what grade kids are in?
- Comment on how big a child is compared to someone shorter? Wow! You’re so much taller than Johnny!
- Offer a younger and taller child’s clothing to a child who is older and shorter, forgetting that clothes should be age, not height, appropriate?
- Compare siblings’ heights? Look at you! You’re taller than your sister!
- Point out how much a short child has grown even if he hasn’t? I can’t believe how much you’ve grown since the last time I saw you.
- Predict how tall a child will be? The next time I see you, you’ll be taller than I am.
- Make an issue out of something that is not an issue? Poor Johnny, it must be hard to be short.
It’s only hard to be short because people make it hard. So let’s stop it.
Height. Let’s talk about it. And then, let’s not talk about it.
Erin Frankel, the author of the Weird series, has a master’s degree in English education and is passionate about parenting, teaching, and writing. She taught ESL in Madrid, Spain, before moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her husband Alvaro and their three daughters, Gabriela, Sofia, and Kelsey. Erin knows firsthand what it feels like to be bullied, and she hopes her stories will help children stay true to who they are and help put an end to bullying. She and her longtime friend and illustrator Paula Heaphy believe in the power of kindness and are grateful to be able to spread that message through their work. This spring, Erin and Paula are releasing their fourth title with Free Spirit Publishing, Nobody!, a book about boys and bullying.
We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.