If Your Kid Is Big For His Age, You Probably Spend A Lot Of Time Explaining It To Other Parents

shutterstock_130338704__1392659439_142.196.156.251My son is three years old and over three-and-a-half feet tall. That may be hard to picture – let me just say he’s tall for his age. He looks like a five-year-old and is often treated like one. The way I respond to those who think he is older is making me realize how much I care about other parent’s perceptions of the level of development of my child – which is admittedly weird.

I’d like to fancy myself as someone who doesn’t put too much credence into “milestones.” I think – barring any serious developmental delays – they may just put extra pressure on parents and children. Honestly, I can’t even remember when my first child did anything. I never made a baby book, I just thought I would remember all of that stuff. Nope. How old was he when he crawled, walked, spoke – no idea. Terrible maybe, but it proves that it really doesn’t matter that much to me in the long run. The only reason I ever think about it now is because I have a second child and I’m anticipating when she is going to do it all.

So why, when I’m at the park do I find myself explaining his age to everyone we meet? Every time he acts his age, I catch myself making sure everyone around understands that “he’s only three:”

Oh, sorry he’s not moving off of the bottom of the slide. He’s only three.

Oh, sorry he’s standing in the way on the jungle gym. He’s only three.

Oh, sorry he keeps taking your kid’s toy. He’s only three.

I guess these wouldn’t be so bad if the first two weren’t explained to five-year-olds. What is wrong with me? Who cares how a child acts at a park? Who feels the need to explain said behavior to five-year-olds? Me, apparently.

I started thinking about this because my husband took the kids the park and just called me to report a cute thing that was going on. An adorable little six-year-old girl was following our son around everywhere asking him to chase her. His favorite new show is Wallykazam – it’s a children’s show about a troll who uses a magic stick to make words. He is now obsessed with carrying a stick everywhere he goes. The little girl turned to him and asked, “Hey, wanna chase me?” To which my kid replied, “I’m going to turn you into a cow with my magic stick!” Cute, right? The first thing I said to my husband was, “Did you tell her he’s three?” Yes, because it’s important that this grade-schooler understands why my son doesn’t get the intricacies of “chase” yet.

This is dumb. Who cares if the general public understands how old my kid is? He certainly doesn’t care; he’s perfectly happy being misunderstood by his older peers and other parents. I guess as much as I try to pretend that I don’t care what others think of my parenting, I really kind of do. It’s the only explanation for why I constantly feel the need to let everyone know that he looks way older than he is.

Oh, well. Maybe I’ll be able to stop this behavior by the time my second giant baby reaches toddlerhood.

(photo: Zurijeta/ Shutterstock)


Be Sociable, Share!
You can reach this post's author, Maria Guido, on twitter.
Be Sociable, Share!
  • Crusty Socks

    Well, there’s always that football scholarship to Miami U.

    • AP

      “Sorry he can’t read, he’s only a college football player.”

  • Life-Sized Mommy

    I’m guilty of this. My older son measures off-the-charts. It’s not just that he’s huge for his age; he has very strong, masculine features that make him look older. (Ever seen a toddler with a cleft chin?) He’s four and looks at least eight.

    I’m constantly explaining his immature speech, fidgetiness, etc. with, “Sorry, he’s only four.” I know it’s because I care too much about strangers’ opinions, but I also always feel validated at their surprise. (“Really? He looks so much older!”)

  • Kay_Sue

    We have the same issue with our youngest. I have no idea where those genes came from. I think it’s helpful that it’s him, though, because I’m more relaxed. I don’t feel the need to explain it every time…but I don’t explain most of what he does. I’m a much more laissez faire parent with a little experience on me. ;)

    I’ve heard tell that it all evens out eventually, and even if they stay bigger than their peers, it’s not as big of a deal, but I haven’t seen it yet. My older son is built just like me, and is tiny for his age, so I have no frame of reference for dealing with it….

    • Lackadaisical

      Yes, my oldest is short and delicate and we worry a lot. My younger son is tall and built like a tank so feels less breakable.

    • Kay_Sue

      That is exactly how it feels. There was even a distinct difference between holding the older as a newborn, at 7 lbs 8.8 oz, and the younger as a newborn, at 10 lbs 8.9 oz.

  • Valerie

    I understand completely. My daughter is a very young 1st grader (only turned 6 in late September) yet, she is the tallest kid in her class and routinely mistaken for a 3rd or 4th grader. I definitely thought about how she was perceived in public as a toddler when she would have a very toddlerly moment but I knew people thought she was much older because of her height and the fact that she had a lot of long hair. I did find myself explaining her age quite a bit as I worried how it would reflect on me as a parent. And funnily enough, our son is very tiny for his age (she takes after my husbands tall family, he after my itty bitty one…) and I notice shock on peoples faces in public when they hear him speak. They were expecting a toddler and he speaks like a child his age or even a bit older as he learns a lot from his big sister. He will be 5 in June but could easily pass for 3 or even younger if he’s sitting in his seat at a restaurant. I don’t get too concerned about any of it most of the time but I am often conscious of it and hope people don’t judge and make assumptions when I’m not there to correct them.

  • thefluter

    I think it makes sense to care about what other people think, but also to remind people to curb their expectations of his behavior. My nephew just turned 4, but he’s also really big for his age, so people often think he’s maybe 5 or 6 — and it can be easy for me to expect him to act like a 5 year old, especially when he’s about to throw a major tantrum as 3yos are more likely to do.

  • GG

    I am an elementary school teacher and I routinely guess children’s ages wrongly. The variation among kids at any given age is wide. You might be surprised– a lot of those folks might not have a good guess for your little guy’s age anyway!

    On the other hand, my little one is very small for her age and I feel like I’m constantly explaining that yes, we do feed her. Often unprompted because I’m afraid they’re judging me/my kid inside their heads. So yeah, I get where you’re coming from!

    • Lackadaisical

      The teacher of the class I volunteer with (5 – 6 year olds) was chatting about this with the teaching assistants recently. At that age the gap between the older September kids and the younger August kids can mean a lot in terms of development but sometimes you get a kid who seems far older or younger than they are. It was even more dramatic last year when we were with the reception class (4 – 5 year olds). Some of those kids seem almost like toddlers while others in the class are very mature.

      I sympathise with the thin kid thing. I became friendly with a playgroup leader who worked at the playgroup my small eldest son used to attend. She revealed to me that the staff had flagged up his size at one point and had been about to talk to me and possibly take it further, luckily I managed to get a bit more weight on him so he was merely painfully thin rather than skeletally thin. He eats the same as his sturdier brother of the same height but a combination of genetics and nervous energy keep him light.

  • SA

    I think it is fine to remind people. Especially if your child looks a few years older physically. It will cause people to be more understanding of their behavior and patient.

  • Lackadaisical

    Oh yes, I so understand this. I have an almost 11 year old and a 7 year old who are the same height because one is a little small for his age and the other is utterly huge. I often am asked if they are twins. Of course my 7 year old who looks like a 9 or 10 year old has the emotional development of a 7 year old so if I take him to a club or class with mixed ages (like swimming lessons) he is assumed to be an older child who is acting like a much younger kid or who has developmental delays, especially as he has slurred speech as a bit of a speech impediment. His big brother (who is small) is treated like a prodigy for doing or saying things that are normal for his age or has to listen to people go on about how small he is and how big his brother is. It is exaggerated by the fact that not only is my younger son very tall but he is also built on sturdier, larger framed lines while his older brother is delicate and underweight for his short height. It’s perfectly normal for both of them, they just take after different parents. I am built like a barn and am tall but did all my growing early, my husband has a delicate bone structure and was the shortest and skinniest kid in the class until 17 when he shot up overnight to be 6 ft 4. It doesn’t help that my tall kid is very, very bright for his age intellectually but is the youngest in a combined class of two year groups and is a little young for his age emotionally and socially. He isn’t that young for his age but being a clever giant makes it more noticeable.

    As the mum of kids both ends of the spectrum (and a daughter in between but tending to tall and lighter framed) I would say that if he continues to be tall watch out for how he handles playground tussles. My short kid can get away with a lot more than my big kid (not that I encourage that, I don’t). My tall kid has to be careful because no matter who shoved or hit first as a very strong lad who towers over the other kids he will be assumed to be the aggressor and he can do a lot more damage than his friends, even if he doesn’t mean to. It’s harsh but we have to be sterner about aggression with him because there are more consequences.

    • Maria Guido

      I never even thought about that! One more thing to add to the list of worries… haha.

    • Lackadaisical

      To be honest it is swings and roundabouts, it all balances out in the end. My eldest, who is small, can be a bully magnet. His little brother who is not at all little never, ever has a problem with physical bullying. Actually I have seen him chase off kids from the eldests class who were picking on his older brother. Just being big is enough for him to be not worth fighting. However whenever there has been a tussle of any kind with kids his own age he is seen as the agressor so we have had to clamp down on even the slightest bit of aggression with his peers. Small kids always seem innocent and the underdog but can be an easy target, big kids often need to cultivate the gentle giant image to avoid being written off as a bully but then they need to fight less as they would obviously be able to hurt a would be attacker. I know that you wouldn’t encourage your son to fight, we certainly didn’t with either of ours, but if he continues to be big it is worth thinking about.

  • Jj

    My daughter is very tall for her age and she was significantly developmentally delayed (motor) and advanced in speech – so at almost 2, she was crawling and speaking in full sentences. People would point and whisper and we couldn’t get a play date if we begged. It was devastating and after a while, I wouldn’t go to the park or museum, etc.

    Can’t get away from judgment. (Lucky for us, she is 5 now and mostly caught up, physically. I was recently told she speaks like a preteen but I think it’s just her teenage attitude!)

  • LiteBrite

    My mom went through the same thing with my younger brother. He was always exceptionally tall for his age (I mean, the guy is 6’3″-6’4″ now) so people continually thought he was much older than he really was, and she found herself doing a lot of explaining. My sister also goes through the same thing with my nieces. My one niece is about to turn five, yet is taller than my six-year-old son. (And HE’S tall for his age too.)

    I don’t have any advice, but I can imagine how frustrating it is based on my mom’s and my sister’s comments.

  • Carly

    Yes, yes! I could have written this article! Both my kids are tall for their ages, but my oldest son who is 4 (going on 10) is ALWAYS mistaken for a much older kid. He has always been EXTREMELY verbal (30 words by age 1, full sentences by 16 months….crazy, I know). So between his verbal abilities and his height (oh, and his fascination with older kids and his outgoing nature), he usually ends up rolling with the 6 and 7 year old crowd at the park. This works out fine until, you know, he begins to act his age (did I mention he has a super low frustration tolerance, a super defiant streak, is really bossy and still has meltdowns like other 4 year olds?) it becomes a problem. I definitely find myself explaining to other parents (and his older “buddies”) that he is only 4. You are right – I shouldn’t care what other people think. But i guess I do it to help him save face….if the kids and parents understand he is so young. won’t they cut him a bit more slack for, you now, being his age? I guess I am trying to protect him. Can’t do that forever, I know. But as parents, isn’t it hard not to from time to time?

  • Courtney Lynn

    I totally understand. My son is not even 2 yet, but he’s in the 90th percentile for height AND weight (he’s proportionate, they’re not worried about it). I’m not shocked, my husband is 6’6″ and was pretty much the same at his age. I don’t mind explaining it. I love that most people are so impressed. Of course, here, in Texas, everyone assumes he’ll play football so that gets a little annoying.

  • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

    I teach sixth grade and am usually pretty good at looking at a kid and saying, “that kid’s right around 11.” I can pick them out. However, that being said….there are 11 year olds who are tiny who I would guess are about 8 if I didn’t know better, and a few who are huge, who have adult voices and bodies, and people often treat them as though they are in high school (which can be bad). And I’ve messed up a couple of times at meet the teacher night. Once, I met a student who had a small mustache and happened to be holding his parent’s car keys, so I assumed he was the older brother who had driven my student there, and was looking around for the little kid. He hadn’t been held back, he was just huge! And another time I met a boy/girl twin. The boy was pretty big and the girl looked verrrrry young so I figured she was just a sibling and only talked to the boy. They were both about to be my student. Awkward. The point is….. some kids don’t look average, and even though I see it every day, it’s still hard to remember (outside of school) that the big kids might not be as big as you think, and vice versa.

  • Katherine Handcock

    I have a friend with the same situation – her kiddo was in size 5s when he turned 3! – and her solution was to explain to parents, not kids. The other kids kind of shrugged and did their thing; it tended to be the parents who were scoffing/dismayed/etc. But yes, that always resulted in “He’s so BIG for his age” (as if she had no idea ;-)

  • Jayamama

    My daughter is not really that much bigger than her peers — maybe the 80th percentile — but she’s speech delayed. While it’s not so weird to have a little girl speak unintelligibly at barely two, it does look a bit weird at the pediatrician or nursery when she’s the biggest in the room and is the only one who can’t be understood. I feel the need to let others know that she’s just two, not three or four.

  • Justme

    When we were I. The process of adopting our second dog, a lady from the rescue shelter came over to assess our house and lifestyle. My daughter was ten months old at the time and not walking…but well into 24 months clothes. As she crawled around the floor, the dog lady condescendingly sneered at me, “shouldn’t she be walking by now?” I gathered myself (all six feet, 180 pounds of volleyball/basketball player) together and sweetly responded, “well, she’s only ten months old – she gets her height from me.”

    I still get the “pity” look from cashiers at Target when my not-yet-three-year-old (who is out of the toddler/preschool clothes and into the little girl section) doesn’t respond clearly to their questions.

    I could go on and on about the perils of having a tall daughter…but I’ll be honest, I’m proud more than I am put out. Yeah, those are my long legs and my lean build that propel her across the playground. My height has always been such a major part of who I am and I can’t wait to share that with my girl.

    • Maria Guido

      I’m sorry – I’m stuck on “a lady from the rescue shelter came over to assess our house and lifestyle.” Wow. That happens?

    • Natasha B

      It does. My parents got turned down from a Golden Rescue Shelter…they both work full time so the dog would be alone all day. Yep.

    • Rachel Sea

      I applied to adopt from a rescue and in my pre-interview (which came after the 6 page application) I was asked about the enrichment curriculum I schedule for my dogs, and about the details of my educational philosophy.

      We never got an in-home interview because our described home and lifestyle was insufficient. They didn’t like that one of us works outside the home, and that we want kids. They only adopt to active couples who work from home, or don’t work, who can’t or won’t have kids, and who will never restrict the dog’s movement within the home, or let them go outside alone, and who will NEVER take them to a dog park.

      We got two awesome young dogs from the pound, and neither they nor our two elderly dogs have any complaints about their lifestyle.

    • Roberta

      That sounds rather frustrating. I know that rescue shelters have an obligation to their dogs first and foremost, but to expect that a couple will never work away from home/have kids/let the dogs jump on all the furniture/change anything about their lives? That is definitely too much.

    • Rachel Sea

      There are a lot of private rescues and rescuers giving the process a bad name. Most are well meaning people who have a vision of The Ideal Home for a dog, and won’t accept anything less, and the rest are basically hoarders. Either way, their ability to rehome animals sucks.

    • Justme

      A lot of private organizations do in-home interview type things. She just came over to check out our backyard and our home to make sure we were good people that would properly take care of a dog. Two years later, he is the snuggliest, sweetest, chubby little dachshund I know. First thing he does in the mornings is go check on our daughter – it kills him when she isn’t home.

    • Natasha B

      I am 5’8″, and have maybe 2in left until out 9yo daughter is taller than me. We constantly hear ‘she’s so tall! She’s so tall!!’ It gets old, but we work hard to instill confidence in her-she’s gorgeous and smart and kind and so many things besides tall. We found an awesome blog ‘Tall and Curly’
      Our 4yo son frequently gets mistaken for a 6/7yo.

    • Alexandra

      OMG how did you not smack that woman across the face with a frying pan? My best friend’s daughter never really even moved until 19 months, and then just stood up and started walking around as if she’d been doing it forever. How DARE that woman judge your daughter or you for that type of thing? What if she had been developmentally disabled? How the fuck is that any of her business? Sorry, I’m ragey on your behalf LOL

    • Justme

      It caught me off guard, that’s for sure…but I had to consider the source. She was clearly a “dog” person and not someone who had a lot of interest in children (which is fine, but it does explain her statement about my daughter). I just tried to stay on her good side because I really wanted that dog.

  • Givemeabreak

    Oh Maria. I don’t agree with you very often, but this.. so much of this. My youngest went in today for his 15 month check and is standing in at 35″ tall. My middle is 5 and is by far the tallest in his class, or the 1st and 2nd graders. We build’m big. There is no doubt about that. I had a nurse ask me one time what I did to get such big boys, I responded with well that’s what happens when you drink miracle grow while pregnant. I had to back track and tell her I was only joking when she gave me a look of sheer horror.

    • Maria Guido

      Haha! I’m stealing that.

  • Angela

    Yes! This is bad enough with my own kids who both hover around the 99th percentile for height but is especially true for my nephew who is just as tall but also has autism. When he was 5 I was watching him at the playground and another parent started screaming at him because he had gone down the slide before her child had moved out of the way. Unfortunately he looked like he was at least 7 but his social development was more on par with a 3 year old. Because of this I try sooo hard not to pass judgement on other kids (or their parents) that I feel look old enough to know better when I know absolutely nothing about their situation.

  • MeLuRe

    Both of my boys are “big for their age,” but guess what? It is not my problem that everyone else’s kids are so teeny tiny! I wouldn’t worry too much Maria, most people who are around kids enough should be able to recognize that, regardless of how tall a child is, their physical (motor skills) and linguistic abilities are more indicative of their age. I mean, only little kids actually think peoples age is based on how tall they are…like my brother (who is 2 years younger than me) must be older than I am because he is over 6 ft and I am only 5′ 8″. #kindergartenproblems

  • Guest

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not wanting people to think your son is rude, mean, or mentally challenged. Yeah, we SHOULDN’T care what people think but…if we didn’t care at all nothing would get done. It’s natural to want to protect him from glares and possible mistreatment for not acting “appropriately”.

  • A-nony-mous

    My son is the opposite end of the spectrum but I feel for parents who have larger-than-average kids. There was a girl in his class and even in Kindergarten she was about 4’5″ and at least 80 pounds. by the time Grade 1 or so rolled around she was like 4’8″ and heavier than I am. I remember talking to her mother and the girl had such a hard time. The older girls in the school didn’t understand that she might be the same size as them but not mentally the same. They invited her to play and the girl didn’t understand most of the games they wanted to play or couldn’t keep up but a lot of the kids her age were a bit intimidated by her or didn’t want to play with her either.

    It’s hard when you don’t fit in anywhere. She left the school after only a couple years. I hope she’s doing better in her new school. She was such a sweet girl.

  • gothicgaelicgirl

    Lol I have this problem with my 10 year old stepdaughter. She’s 10 but looks about 13/14, she’s very tall and already busty so she looks a LOT older.
    She sometimes gets weird looks off staff when she asks me to give her a hand getting changed into a dress or trying on some clothes, I make a point of saying, she’s only ten, her dad is abnormally tall.

  • Jessie

    Well, at least people treat him like he’s older than he is rather than younger. A close friend of our family has a son who is almost thirteen years old, but due to the fact that both of his parents are only about 5’2″ at most, he looks and sounds about eight, and people often treat him as such. It drives the poor boy crazy, as you can imagine.

  • http://www.twitter.com/ohladyjayne allisonjayne

    My kid is fairly tall, and she was born with a full head of (dark and thick) hair, so she’s been assumed to be older, especially when she was a baby because most babies her age were still bald.

    When I’m out with her on my own, I do get a lot of comments about how “[my] husband must be tall!” because I’m little…I used to just nod rather than correct them, because it was always some random on the street…but I noticed the last time I did that, my kid gave me a really weird look. I guess now that she’s picking up on this stuff, I can’t get away with it.

    My wife’s tall, and hearing all the trouble she got up to because people assumed she was older…she (secretly) got a job bussing tables at a café when she was 10 by telling them she was 14….she would lie about her age to get babysitting jobs….and boys of course assuming she was older….ack. I’m glad I vetoed using the donor who was 6’7″.

  • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

    I have a very tall baby, myself. He’s in the 95th percentile for height, and 50th for weight. He is walking too, which makes him appear much older than he is. He climbed up a kid at an early years centre and the kid was excited and nearly started roughhousing with him and I had to tell him my son was just a baby.
    So, you know, I think it’s helpful to let other kids know how old your son is so they can temper their expectations and be a little kinder, gentler. Nothing wrong with that!

    And for the record, I’m 5’2″ and my husband is 5’7″. I have no idea how we got a tall one. Maybe all that milk and cottage cheese I ate while pregnant ;)

  • Elli

    My husband and I are both petite and our firstborn was/is also smaller than his peers. So we didn’t have your problem (we have all other problems that have to do with having the shortest kid in the class…). I comforted myself exactly with your line: at he’s not too big that people wonder what’s up with him (as was one of his best friends). Now, as we all know, karma has a way to bite you in your buttocks. My younger daughter has developmental problems as it is (developed hearing deficiency and had to go through operations), but she also took after my father, a big farmer type. So now we have a girl who is not only bigger than her peers, but also less speech/behaviour developed than they are…

  • http://www.cupcakesandnerds.com/ Nerdy Cupcake

    I feel like I almost could have written this. My daughter is just 2 but is often mistaken for 3 or 4 (her Dad is 6’4 and although I’m pretty average I have several female cousins over 6 ft so she got it from both sides). I’m constantly having to say “Sorry, she’s only 2″ in response to people questioning her language skills or responses to complex questions – she’s not bad for her age, but still definitely not on par with a 3-4 year old. I’ve started adding her age as a disclaimer and I feel like insecure idiot every time, particularly when I’m pointing it out to other kids.

  • melisaaems

    i know this is an older post…but i wanted to share my just turned 3 year old son is 42″ tall & a late talker. we were just at the park, where he ended up getting bullied by 5 & 6 year olds because he “sounds like a baby”- my heart broke- they were so mean. of course, everyone thinks my son is “at least 4″. it’s getting harder now because of his speech & his height. we are getting him evaluated for a speech therapist, but in the meantime, having to deal with older kids teasing him because they think he is their age is hard & heart-breaking. today was especially sad, these kids ganged up & were mean, running from him (which he thought was a game), calling him a baby (which he said, “no, big boy”), then a cry baby- he ended up staying away from them, but they would run by him taunting him….they ended up pushing him & making him cry (& then he got it- they were mean) ….of course the moment I go to take a sip of water is when something goes down….it escalated really quickly, it was shocking. i got him out of there- but my gosh, did that suck.