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How Can I Help My 12-Year-Old Feel OK About Her Height?

By Julia Taylor, Educational Consultant

Question:

My 12-year-old daughter is in seventh grade and has been in her school since PreK. This year her classmates, whom she has been with since first grade are teasing her about her height as they have grown taller and are developed. My daughter averages 4'5" whereas most of her friends are 5'3". She has become very self-conscious as she is sometimes mistaken for a fourth-grader. I've explained to her that she will grow on her own time and that I was also petite when in grade school and didn't sprout up until high school. What can I do to make her relax about her height?

Answer:

Is the teasing meant to be outright "mean" and exclusive, or is it being done in a way that is overboard and irritating only to your daughter? For example, are they saying how "cute" or "tiny" she is? Either way, it seems to be having a profound effect on your daughter's self-esteem.

I would encourage her to speak up to her classmates and tell them how she feels about them making fun of her height. She should talk to the one who initiates the teasing and simply say, "I don't like it when you make fun of my height. I cannot help that I am shorter than you and it really bothers me. I would like it if you would stop."

I suggest having a one-on-one conversation rather than saying that to an entire group. Body-image woes come with adolescence, especially during this turbulent time. I constantly see both boys and girls that are dissatisfied with something, from wearing glasses to having big feet (and everything in between!). We often think of body image disturbances solely as a weight issue, but it is a lot more complex.

During the middle-school years, girls often develop earlier and quicker than boys do, leaving the girls who are slower to develop feeling like they are on the outside looking in. Telling an adolescent not to worry about it, or that they won't remember this in 10 years simply doesn't work. It is probably on the forefront of her mind, especially since other kids are not helping the matter.

To help her relax about her height, I have a few suggestions. First, I would always listen to her without having an answer. If she comes home from school upset because someone made a comment - or if she is trying on trendy clothes at the mall that don't fit, just listen without saying "don't worry about it."

Here's an example:

Daughter: I hate school; everyone was calling me "shorty" and making fun of me.
Mom: That must have felt awful, I am sorry that happened.
Daughter: It did. I don't want to go back.
Mom: Tell me exactly what happened and let's see if we can brainstorm some ways to help you feel better.

I also suggest building her self-esteem by making regular comments about things she is good at that have nothing to do with her body - her academic performance, cleaning up or helping with household work, cooking a great meal, etc. Refrain from calling her "cute" or "adorable." Kudos, to you, for being involved in your daughter's life and helping her out when she needs it the most.


Julia Taylor is a professional school counselor for Wake County Public Schools in Raleigh, N.C.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

09/1/2010:
"Ass a middle school teacher in NC, I have seen this before. Its important to have a list of the students addressing her this way and hold a meeting with the counselors and those students. This must be so difficult and I'm sorry its happening. The school needs to know and the staff must work to end the name-calling."
06/30/2008:
"My son justed completed the 8th grade with 3 D's (Science, Eng/Language Arts, History/Social Science). He knew if his grades dropped below C, he would have to move to NV with me. I've been here for 1 year & agreed to let him stay with Dad. His Dad is a very negative person. He saids negative things about me, teases him about my fiance, curses & is just not the idea parent. My son is very involved in sports & thinks opportunities are better in getting scouted in CA. He is comfortable with his school/friend environment & tolerates his Dad's behavior just to stay. He doesn't want to start over in NV. I believe his Dad is part of the problem. I believe in academics first. How do I ease his frustration & sadness & convince him that life will be better for him in NV? "
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