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Short 3-year-old being called a baby

Sept 2008

A couple of times recently kids my 3-year-old didn't know have called her a baby on the playground. She's short--in the 10th percentile for height--and because of a specific medical condition is going to keep being short. She's about a head shorter than most other 3-year-olds, and I suspect these kids just look at her and assume she's 2. We've commiserated about how being called a baby hurts her feelings, and I've encouraged her to respond by saying she's 3, but I'm a bit at a loss about what else to say. I'd like to hear how anyone else out there has dealt with this kind of situation. Thank you.


We had this issue too, although we did not approach it as a problem, per se. My daughter has always been tiny and was probably lower than 10% when she was three. I kind of liked her being small, and my concern was more that people were lowering their expectations of her. (They would say, ''Wow, she talks so well,'' and I'd have to reply, ''Well, yes, she's four!'')

Here's a couple things we did. We already liked the Madeline books, so we got the CD and a couple videos. If you know these stories, the title character is smart and brave but small in stature. We talked about her and sang the songs (about being petite and neat) and so my daughter really identified with that.

We also didn't make a big deal out of the word baby. I would say, ''Well, your not A baby, but you'll always be MY baby.'' Maybe that's why that word wasn't an issue.

For her peers at that time, we just taught her to say, ''I'm Quinn and I'm three.'' If she was asked about it, she would sometimes say, ''I'm petite.'' My daughter has a big personality usually so this wasn't too hard for her.

Now that she's five in kindergarten, we do have to address the issue again in a different way as sometimes here peers who are so much bigger will say, ''Oh, she's so cute'' and even try to carry her or otherwise baby her.

We are still into the Madeline stories so sometimes we go back to that to talk things through. Short girls rock! Elizabeth


Tell her to say something like, ''well, I'm probably the smartest baby you'll ever see, since I'm actually not even a baby- I''m 3!!'' That's the one advantage of a little kid. We had one, and everybody thought she was smart as a whip, whereas the very smart big kids we met were being mistaken for 5 yr olds, and everybody thought they were dumb. So look on the bright side.
I will try to be gentle here, but there is something that is clear to me about your post: YOU are hurt, YOU are sensitive about this issue, YOU are making a bigger deal out of this than it needs to be. And your daughter is getting caught up in your issues.

You say ''We've commiserated about how being called a baby hurts her feelings'' which makes it clear that you also have hurt feelings. My guess, from reading your post, is that you are encouraging your daughter to have hurt feelings about this. Now, of course, we need to create the space for our children to express and explore how they feel. However, we cannot use our children to process our own feelings about their treatment.

You seem to feel that the ''truth'' will settle the situation. I think that rather than encouraging your daughter to insist on the truth (''when they call you a baby, say you are 3'') encourage her to 1)invite them to play with her and 2) encourage her to brush it off. Something along the lines of ''its okay if they think you are younger, sometimes we are wrong about how old someone is, but it doesn't mean we can't play together''.

I encourage you to think about it this way. What if your kid was being confronted by something that she felt 'targetted' for (because I sense you feel she is being excluded or targetted because of her size) that is actually true. Then what have you taught her in terms of her defense? Her only defense is to not allow this comment to impact her.

What if kids at the playground said to her ''you have glasses'' or ''you have two moms''. If someone says something to her that she cant combat with ''truth'' then she does not have tools to deal with it. If you teach her that we make assumptions about each other and that all people are different, and that the best we can do it to get to know each other and to play with each other, you have taught her how to interact in a variety of situations.

If SHE is truly saddened about this, of course, you need to let her express her feelings. But she does not need to carry around the weight of your sadness. Allow her to express her feelings, and encourage her to be confident in who she is no matter what anyone may think by looking at her.

I have a 3-year-old as well. He is very receptive to these conversations. anon


I have a small son, probably about the 10th percentile or less. He'll be five in January and a couple months ago I was asked if he was TWO! When he was younger I would just tell people that he's small but now when people remark about his size or think he's younger, I say very casually ''no, he's four and a half.'' I don't try to make excuses and I don't want him to think there's anything wrong with being small. Plus, he more than makes up for it with his fabulous personality! short stuff's mom
I was always tiny -- 5th percentile, I would guess (no one measured that way back then). Always in the front row of class pictures. Always shopping in little girls' department. I never had a growth spurt, and ended up 4'11,'' with a D-cup chest to make matters worse. My Dad had the bright idea to teach me to meet teasing with ''It is one of the detestable habits of the Lilliputian mind to credit others with its own malignant pettiness.'' A non-starter, I'm afraid. Humor was always a better comeback: ''At least I can get under pay toilets.'' But I was smart and strong, and people took me seriously. Aside from the occasional minor annoyance, my height was just not a big deal. Raise her to be strong and smart and confident and she will be fine. And encourage her to be a judge; no one can tell how tall you are on the bench. Judge Shorty

Feeding Small Five-year-old

March 2005

I'm looking for advice on feeding our daughter who is 5 years old and about 33 pounds and 40 inches -- about the 5th percentile for weight and the 10th for height according to the charts we have seen. She was a bruiser of a newborn at 9 1/4 pounds, but has grown slowly ever since. Her pediatrician says she is not underweight and is growing at an adequate rate, but recommends giving her whole milk and avocados (both foods she likes). One complication for us has been that she doesn't eat meat, while we do. We've offered it to her in various forms since she started on solid food but she has never accepted it. She also doesn't like nut butters. She likes tofu, cheese, and eggs, so we give her those and she seems to us to eat a pretty well-balanced and nutritious diet. We're amazed and envious, though, when we see the amount of food that other kids her age easily put away at a sitting. I realize that she's probably just meant to be petite and I don't want to make her self- conscious about it -- but I would appreciate any advice or anecdotes about feeding a kid like this. Thanks! medium sized mom of tiny vegetarian daughter


Meat is such an easy, plentiful source of protein and fat. Vegetarian people, especially thin-but-growing vegetarians, need to be especially careful to get enough fat and protein.

So, what will seem like too much fat to you might be just what the little gal needs. I want to recommend using butter. After all the juice responses recently, I'm a little worried my pro-fat response will incite backlash from the militant, but I'm going to go ahead anyway.

Coconut is both protein and fat. You can put some atop oatmeal or even cold cereal. You can use either coconut milk or dairy milk to cook rice. Hopefully she will enjoy coconut. If she doesn't like nut butters, does she like just nuts? I know I don't really enjoy almonds unless they've been soaked in water 6-8 hours. Unsoaked taste dry and withered to me, while soaked are much more plump and taste yummy. If you can get her into trail mixes that include nuts, that would be a super way to add protein/fat. Both mushrooms and lentils are good sources of protein (shiitake especially, from mushrooms), but are pretty low in fat on their own. Olives are similar to avocados, in that they're almost all fat, but the monounsaturated healthy kind. Slather cream cheese on her bagels. Since the doc is recommending whole milk, I'll tell you that you can find whole milk ricotta, but mozarella is always lowfat. Have you ever made soups with cream rather than milk? Delicious & should help. Don't be afraid of creamy or cheesy sauces for her. It would help if you could go vegetarian 1 to 2 days a week yourself, because you'd get a better idea of what it takes to feel like you're getting enough without going overboard; plus it could expand your cooking skills. Lasagna of course is a great way to use whole milk ricotta. If you want to bake bread at home, there are recipes that include 1 cup of cheddar - though there is a company in SF that makes v. cheesy bread if you want to buy it.

You're probably doing just fine nutritionally, so I wouldn't worry too much. Just be sure that she's getting plenty of fat and protein, as it's easy to forget these or skimp on them in our lowfat culture (most lowfatters get plenty of fat/protein through meat, so lowfat is appropriate for them; not so much for your daughter). anon


I don't particularly have advice about how to make your daughter eat more (which is what I think your were asking), because it sounds like she is how she is meant to be. Both my kids are on the opposite end of the scale; tall, as am I. They eat very similarly to your daughter, although they are vegetarian by (my) choice. The point is, on the same diet my kids are big. I think its genetics here and you just need to be comfortable with it! Hilary
Sounds like my niece exactly! She was a normal/biggish baby and a teeny tiny toddler (she'll be 4 in July). Picky eater to boot! In addition to avocados and whole milk/yogurt, my brother in law and his wife also fed her gobs of macadamia nut butter........yummy!!! similar to peanut butter but much much much fattier...thus yummier! I think you can get it at trader joes? not sure though. since my own toddler is the reverse (little baby, big toddler, haven't met a food he doesn't like) I haven't had this problem. matt
I second the ideas for additional fats in the diet. I also like the ground nuts that trader joe's sells. I put a scoop into oatmeal and any baked goods. iris

Small size comebacks for 5-year-old

Sept 2002

My son is very small for his age. He has always been in the lowest 5th percentile in height and I imagine always will be for his gender. He is five-years-old and is often mistaken for much younger given his size, including by his peers. I want to help him find positive ways to respond to the inevitable statements he gets from children he doesn't know about his size, like ''you don't look 5, you look like you're 3.'' His knee-jerk response is to say ''I am so 5'' in an irritated and mad voice. I want to coach him to respond more positively, or at least not in a mad way, but I just don't know how to help him. Are there any other parents of small children (boys) out there who can give me words of wisdom, and advice to share with my son? Thanks for any help. Anonymous


I think your son's response is just perfect, frankly. Their comments are rude and he is right to sound annoyed. If he was saying ''I am SO five, you stupidhead,'' I might suggest toning it down a little but what you're reporting sounds well within the bounds to me. But if it makes you uncomfortable, what about saying in front of the person ''Now, Zack, she didn't mean to hurt your feelings, so let's just tell her in a nice way that you are in fact five'' which might also help the clueless person get the message. Fran
My son is extremely small for his age as well. He will be turning 7 in a couple of weeks and is only 42 pounds and not very tall (10th percentile). Since his dad and I are not very tall either, I don't expect him to be ever tall so I have been focussing on all the things he is good at. He is a very fast runner and very good at all sorts of athletic sports. I really try hard to boost his self esteem because quite frankly, he will always be small and kids will always tease him. I point out all kinds of people, large, short, heavy, skinny and comment on their disposition. See how nice that person helped us in the store, etc. I also always talk about the fact that I was the 3rd smallest in my entire school and that I was teased a lot, but that I was very good at certain things which the other kids could not do. Also, try to make light of the situation without trying to make him feel bad of who he is. I know it is difficult, but all kids will end up being teased at some point or another, if it is not size, it will be something like a funny last name. Jannette

Fattening up my skinny kids

Feb 2002

After a bout with giardia, my 3.5 year old twins have been found to not be gaining enough weight and it has been recommended that we add more fat to their diets. We eat very healthily- no fast food, hot dogs, soda etc... but I was wondering if anyone had any healthy, kid-friendly recipes that could put some meat on my boys' bones. Does anyone have any other creative recommendations for sneaking fat into kids' diets? mom of two toothpicks


We haven't had too much trouble following the same advice from our pediatrician. We get 2% milk for the girls and skim for us, lowfat or whole yogurt for them, nonfat for us. The ''Laurel's Kitchen'' cookbook has a tasty peanut butter bar recipe that combines the best of both worlds fats and nutrition. And then there's the grated cheese on everything potatoes, veggies, pasta, scrambled eggs. Nuts for snacks - roasted almonds are popular, and they're not hard to roast yourself if you want to buy a big bag at Costco. Bananas are pretty high in calories for a fruit and make great smoothies with berries, peanut butter, cocoa or frozen juice concentrate blended with milk or yogurt and ice cubes. The other thing that's helped has been making between-meals food accessible to the kids, though that might be a bit risky with 3 year olds. Self-serve breakfast cereal, fruit and yogurt are always available. Rachel
I can't believe you are actually having a problem introducing fats into your kid's meals unless they are really picky eaters. For snacks, nuts, peanut butter and avocados (or guacamole) are all good sources of fat. Cheese and whole-milk products are also good (yogurt, ice cream, sour cream, butter, etc.) If you are concerned about the sugar content, you can always buy the no-sugar added type. And don't forget pizza! And what kid doesn't like maccaroni & cheese (or fetuccine alfredo). And of course, you have meats (steaks, ribs, lamb) and fatty fish such as salmon. anon
Try giving a milkshake every night for dessert. This worked fabulously well for my daughter and it's relatively healthy--throw in some peanut butter if they like that and you've even added in more protein and fat. This worked on my brother when he was little and on our daughter when we thought she needed some bulking up. I am convinced it helped her with a growth spurt as well as putting some meat on her bones, since she had always been the tiniest, skinniest child in the class until 2nd grade. anon.
Foods that combine fat and protein are a good bet, because you can get a lot of benefit from one food. And think Mediterranean diet -- fat calories from plant (nuts, olive oil) and fish sources. A lot of what you give them will depend on how picky your kids are. For example, my kids love California rolls, which are full of avocado (fattening, but full of vitamins). You could also make your own guacamole and give the kids veggie sticks to dip in it (most kids like to do that kind of thing). Natural peanut butter is excellent. And you can make peanut sauce and satay to dip in it. Full fat organic yogurt (in the cute little containers) is very child friendly, as are all kinds of cheese sticks (or cheese cubes which you can cut up yourself). My 4 year old daughter loves Brie cheese, so kids can surprise you with what they'll eat! And home made granola (or I got a good one from PlanetOrganics) is good for both breakfast and snacks. Try adding butter (which is better for you than margarine) to veggies. It is also probably important to concentrate on giving them several snacks a day, since they may not be able to eat enough at a meal (even of fatty foods) to take in enough calories. Enjoy! Stephanie
How about cheese (my daughter used to love cubes of cheddar, string cheese), yogurt (NOT fat-free or low-fat), peanut butter on bagel, dried fruit (raisins, dried apricots), whole wheat fruit bars (like the raspberry ones at Monterey Market), tofu. Just a few thoughts. MK
young babies should eat full fat foods - whole milk and yogurt (or full fat soy milk - some have 7-9 grams of fat), real butter - not margarine or some other type (which have the ''bad'' hydrog fats not ''good'' fats), full fat peanut butter, avocados... also perhaps your twins are more grazers and if you can try to have a variety of nibbling goodies w/ you and pop one in their mouth every now and then that can help. my baby is a nibbler and takes a few spoonfuls here and there so i just feed her throughout the day and not a sitting. good luck! stacy
Although it seems unhealthy, fat has twice the calories per weight of carbs or protein- more calories with fewer mouthfuls is important with toddlers. So to add fat without being too unhealthy...

Cook your veggies in butter

Liberal butter or olive oil on pasta/ potatoes

Make fresh fruit smoothies or milkshakes with milk,ice cream, Hershey's syrup in the blender AND add a TBSP of corn oil to boot (a daily milkshake is something nutritionists rely on to fatten diets, but you don't need expensive PediaSure etc.) Be sure at the same time to avoid giving too much juice- will blunt their appetite without adding fat or nutrition.

Consider fatty cuts of meat- my kids like flank steak, which is less offensive to me than hot dogs or hamburgers. Panfry chicken breasts, fish or turkey burgers in a little oil too. I avoid bacon, but my kids would walk a mile for it- look for nitrate free types.

Put out ''dip'' for their carrots- creamy Ranch dressing or guacamole. Avocados have a lot of fat.

Give them cubes of cheese whenever they snack and pizza with double cheese.

And since you avoid McDonalds, they'll probably go wild over homemade sweet potato fries- cut them up, toss with olive oil and oven bake at 400 degrees!

Olive and canola oils are the healthiest, but butter is better than most margarines (no trans fats). The fat in meat is still better than the fat in processed foods/ fast food which is ''partially hydrogenated'' etc. Also avoid ''tropical'' oils like coconut. Pediatrician with skinny kids


Here's a collection of random ideas and thoughts, in no particular order

** Peanut butter -- an obvious one

** Cheese! Put a slice in each sandwich, toss a handful of grated cheddar in scrambled eggs, offer cheese with crackers (or a crisp apple!) as a snack....

** Put butter on toast along with the jam (boy, do I wish I could still afford to do that)

** Don't buy reduced fat stuff (unless you want to use it for yourself, and yourself only). Obviously this means skipping over things labeled ''reduced fat'' and ''light;'' but also - buy the regular (by which I mean not super lean) ground beef when you're going to make hamburgers; buy a can of refried beans to add to tacos or breakfast burritos....

** And, of course, my favorite - ice cream. Once a week doesn't kill anyone, especially a kid. Buy the higher fat brands (such as Haagen Dazs) for your kids and a sorbet for yourself.

Obviously, you want to introduce things that you can wean your kids away from fairly easily once they re-establish a decent weight. I always lament some of the things I was raised on -- for example, having dessert every night after dinner, and always eating chips with my sandwich at lunchtime. Those habits are hard to break, and they have made it hard for me to switch to a low-fat diet now that I'm older. But I think if you're wise about how you do this, you can give your kids some added fat now in ways that will be easier for you to subtley eliminate later.

Good luck! Sarah


3.5 year old has lost weight in the last 6 months

Feb 2002

My 3.5 year old son seems to have actually lost a pound or two since his third birthday. He weighs about 31 pounds right now where he weighed between 32 and 33 in July. He is otherwise healthy although in the past month seems to be eating less and says his tummy hurts after having eaten a few bites of dinner or no dinner at all. [He can be persuaded to be hungry if there is something unusual available like birthday cake but doesn't really overeat those types of things anyway.] The pediatrician is not particularly concerned. He is still on the growth chart (10th to 15th percentile) and his height is at the 25th percentile. He has always been slim but I want to be sure that if this is a signal of a health problem, that we address it sooner rather than later. Has anyone encountered this? Any thoughts? Anonymous please


my 3.5 year old has been at the same weight (30-32lbs) for at least the past year. he has gotten only a little bit taller during this time. he also has much more of an appetite when there are sweets available. he started off much chubbier than yours so i have really seen a drop off in the rate of growth. however, i think he is developing ''normally'' in all other aspects. kids grow at all different rates. my son is the smallest in his age group at school, but someone has to be! if you think there is really something wrong, then definitely pursue it with the doctors. suzie
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