I’ve always told my daughter Hayley that she was smart and beautiful, and I felt that I adequately prepared her for school with a healthy but not over-the-top sense of self-confidence. That all changed one day in preschool when the teachers participated in an innocent activity that had major consequences for Hayley.
During a classroom redecoration, they hung a growth chart on the wall and placed a piece of tape next to the measurements to show the height of each child. While her friends landed at the top and middle of the chart, Hayley’s name was at the very bottom, with no other names in sight.
“I’m the worst because I’m at the bottom,” she told me. “Everyone is taller and better than me.”
Being 5’1″ on a very good day (with heels and volumized hair), I related to her predicament. Growing up, I was always the shortest kid in class, but it never seemed to bother me the way it did her.
“I don’t like being called a munchkin,” Hayley said.
I scoured through books, movies and television shows to point to a short character who Hayley could relate to that was a heroine. Much to my surprise, not only couldn’t I find one, but I found tons of characters who had special abilities precisely because they were tall.
At the end of the day, I thought the best way to tackle this situation was head-on—validate her feelings and give her a lesson on acceptance.
“Worry about being the best Hayley,” I frequently told her.
While I certainly didn’t want to give her false confidence, my philosophy was simple: teach her to stop comparing herself to other children—physically, socially and academically, and focus on herself and what made her special.
For example, she was the last one to get wet when it rains, and she can fit on our tiniest couch!
I’ll be honest—changing her mindset was no easy feat, but over time, it got easier because I modeled that behavior. Hayley takes cues from me. She watches me get ready every morning, and I know there have been times I’ve told her I needed to wear my high heels because I had an important meeting to attend. While I have never believed that height equates to self-confidence, here I was, basically telling my daughter to stock a closet full of pumps because that is how I was conditioned to think. Now, at 35 years old, I am retraining my brain to put the notion of short and tall on a level playing field.
Now, at age 6, Hayley fully embraces being the shortest one in her kindergarten class. I took her to the school playground a few weeks ago, and it all came full circle for me when she proudly showed me how she could squeeze into the coolest hide-and-seek spots—all because she was small!
Do you have a young daughter or son who is what society deems too short? Talk to them about how to accept themselves, point out their advantages and celebrate their differences. While Hayley measures about three inches below the growth curve for a child her age, I know that she does not fall short on confidence.
Lori Orlinsky is a children’s book author, a regular contributor to Chicago Parent and marketing director who lives in Chicago. She is the mother of two little ladies. Her book, Being Small (Isn’t So Bad After All), is available to order now.