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My nine-year-old son is physically strong, but short and underweight; he looks more like a six-year-old. He is so conscious of this that he does not mingle with children his age. My husband and I have spoken to him a number of times, assuring him that it does not matter and that there are a lot of short-statured people who have excelled in life. How should we handle the situation?

You have probably already told him that his short stature will only initially make other children think of him as younger. Once they get to know him, some of them will become friends, regardless of short, tall, small, etc. For this to happen, however, he must give them a chance. Right now, you and he probably feel it is only a matter of them giving him a chance. That prospect and process must seem painful to him, so he stays away.

You would probably need to find one or two sensible children, or their parents, and explain the situation to them. The idea is not to seek pity or sympathy, but to simply dispel the notion that he is not to be included in “big boy" games.

Inclusiveness comes when people around are told what the issue is, and how they can respond and behave appropriately—not as “charity", but as a way to connect with your son, and for him to connect with them. This is what I mean when I say people need to be given a chance to understand the situation and come forward to make friends. There will always be some insensitive children who don’t quite get the idea, but there are bound to be some who do, once they have the information. Without it, they will continue to assume he is too young to be part of their group. That he is physically fit is an advantage, because once impressions are corrected, he can take part in games and other activities with ease.

What does your doctor say? Is this a case of delayed growth, or will he always remain shorter than others? I’m asking this in order to understand if you have to help him tide over a current short-term situation or a long-term one. If it is a physical growth issue, then you need to help him tide over this phase. If it is going to be a matter of remaining short-statured, you will have to help him come to terms with it at different stages of his life.

My six-year-old daughter has always been ready to stay overnight with her paternal grandmother and aunt. Now I find that while other children hesitate, she is always game for overnight camps in school, or staying over at a friend’s place. She recently even asked if she could spend her holiday with another cousin, rather than go with us, when we were planning a short holiday. It is odd to see her so willing to spend time away from us. She is an obedient child, quite happy to be on her own at home. Should we be worried?

An only child in nuclear families is inclined to feel the absence of more people in his or her life, without being able to express it. If a nuclear household is particularly quiet and orderly, with not too many people visiting, and both parents not too talkative, a child may feel a sense of vacuum. It is not so much an indirect rejection of you as parents as a need for more on her part.

That she is forming these bonds is something that will work well if you do not become anxious, jealous or insecure. It would usually mean that she is one of those children who make the emotional and physical transition to managing separation from the parent unit early; they look for varied experiences, pulling away a bit from the cloister of the nuclear family.

At many levels, this is a sign of a healthy personality, and you are fortunate there are other adults in her life whom she likes and trusts, and who welcome her.

What you can examine, however, is whether the atmosphere (said and unsaid, expressed and unexpressed) in your home is in any way one of sadness, anxiety, anger, disappointment, frustration or cynicism. Even hard-working and tired parents can, without realizing it, create a kind of sterile, if not downright unhappy and heavy, atmosphere at home. A lack of simple, joy-giving goals or small daily enjoyment would also trickle down to a child as an atmosphere she may need to take a break from. This is not to suggest that you must be in competition with her aunt, grandparent or friend’s parents to find ways to keep your child at home. Perhaps making some small changes will benefit all three of you, while she maintains her strong bonds with other family members. On some outings, perhaps, you can offer to take another child, like her friend or cousin, along so that your daughter has company and you are together as a family too.

Gouri Dange is the author of More ABCs Of Parenting and ABCs Of Parenting.

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