Parenting Petite Kids

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I’m short. People use all sorts of nice euphemisms: petite, vertically challenged, little. At 5’0″ (152 cm), my legs are just long enough to reach the floor when I’m standing. I have to perch on the front edge of your average chair to rest my feet on the ground. If I sit back, my legs swing in a very unprofessional way. I often find myself tucking one or both legs under me at work. As my daughters put it, I’m “a very small mommy.”

My 6-year-olds are very small girls themselves. Their first-grade classmates revel in picking them up and twirling them around. They don’t seem to mind much, instead enjoying being the “cute little ones” of their classes. M just made it out of the 1st percentile on the growth chart, weighing in at 38 lbs (17.2 kg) at age 6 years, 9 months. That’s 3rd percentile, people! She’s a giant! J’s 41 lbs (18.6 kg) puts her in the 10th percentile. She’s come a long way since her 3 lbs 6 oz (1.5 kg) birth weight.

My daughters’ current small stature likely has very little to do with their prematurity. Birth at 33 weeks gestation explains the girls’ low birth weight, but most premature infants catch up with their birth age peers in height and weight by the age of 1 or 2. If you think about it, it makes sense. My girls are 2 months “younger,” measured from conception, than other kids born in May 2006. When they were -2 months old, it was a big deal. At 4 months old, it was still a pretty big deal. At 6 months, J weighed 12 lbs 12 oz, and M weighed 11 lbs 12 oz, and they were on track. At the age 6 years, 2 months doesn’t make all that much of a difference. You can just blame me for their lack of stature.

I suspect it’s much easier to be a short girl than to be a short boy, but society’s gender attitudes is a topic I won’t touch just now. I’ll just say that I don’t perceive myself or my daughters to have any hang-ups about being short.

Being especially small comes with challenges all its own. The world is built for average-sized people, so we make adjustments. We have stools in every room of the house so that we can reach the things we need. I learned what products could be tweaked to accommodate the realities of raising short babies, toddlers, and young children.

Car seats

It takes a lot of blankets to secure a baby of less than 5 lbs in a carseat. from hdydi.comThe first time I dealt with the unique experience of having a super-small child was coming home from the hospital. Our Graco Snugride infant seat was technically okay for a 5-pounder, but how were we to keep the babies from rolling around? The size of the infant head support it came with was laughable in comparison to my littles. The NICU nurses came to the rescue, once again. They showed me how to roll up receiving blankets and layer them around the baby to keep her in place on her first hundred or so car rides.

In the US, we’re taught that children should ride in rear-facing car seats until they are both at least 1 year old and weigh 20 lbs, and recent recommendations encourage waiting until they’re 2 years old. As I understand it, the weight limit is a matter of having enough mass to resist being thrown in the air in the event of a crash. The age limit has something to do with the length of the spinal cord in comparison to the spine. As my pediatrician put it when I raised a concern about the girls’ legs eventually getting cramped, “Better broken legs than a broken neck.” My girls were well past age 2 before we turned their Britax Marathons forward-facing.

Now that they’re 6, J and M continue to wear 5-point harnesses in their Diono (formerly Sunshine Kids) Radians. Their classmates are all in booster seats, but M doesn’t meet the 40-lb weight minimum, and I’m in no hurry to reduce the girls’ level of containment in the car. Again, it doesn’t seem to bother them too much, although I occasionally get nasty looks at how long we spend getting the girls situated getting in and out of the car at the school pickup drive through. They can buckle and unbuckle themselves, but two buckles each necessarily take longer than one a piece.

Shoes

M and J started walking at 12 and 11 months, respectively. They both wore infant size 2 shoes at the time. There are very few walking shoes that come in a size 2. I certainly couldn’t find any. I ended up resorting to custom shoes ordered from Preschoolians in their “Walkers” line. They weren’t cheap, but they did allow us to go to the park without fear of stones and splinters in the girls’ feet. It wasn’t long before J and M were walking into daycare in the morning instead of me carrying them.

M tends to end up in light up shoes even at age 6; it’s hard to find sturdy, comfortable, school-appropriate shoes in a kid size 9.5. J’s a size bigger, and there are many more options open to her.

Clothes

Clothes weren’t quite the same challenge as shoes. Preemie clothes were gargantuan on the girls the first few months, but once they fit newborn sizes, it was easy–and so much fun–to shop for them.

J and M will be 7 in a few months. I just gave away the last of their size 4T clothes on Freecycle, because they’re fitting comfortably in 5Ts in most brands. When it comes to clothes that can fit loosely, such as sweatshirts and T-shirts, I can shop all the way to an XXS. The nice thing about being little is that M and J get a lot of hand-me-downs, and some hand-me-ups, from friends.

The girls have been wearing the same 4-6 sized tights for 3 winters in a row now, and they’re starting to fall apart. I’m not complaining. I remember how expensive it used to be to dress two kids when they were growing into new sizes every 3-5 months.

J and M’s first public school in El Paso had a uniform. We had trouble finding uniform shirts to fit them, so they just ended up wearing their XXS shirts baggy. I couldn’t get khaki bottoms that wouldn’t fall down at the store recommended by the school, but ended up finding good options online at French Toast.

Shopping carts/high chairs

For a long time, I’d go to the grocery store with one baby in a front carrier and the other in an infant seat placed in the cart. However, even though this continued to be practical weight-wise, by the time the girls were one, they wanted to sit in the cart and look around. The first time I tried, they flopped all over the place, and I gave up. M and J regaled nearby shoppers with wails and demands to “Sit cart! Sit cart!” as I pulled out the double stroller to try Plan B.

Ikea came to the rescue. They had an inflatable cushion that I could place around the girls to keep them propped up and contained. Unfortunately, they no longer sell it in the US. It was genius! I also used this cushion in restaurant high chairs to great effect.

How do your kids compare to others in size? Do you have any product recommendations to help kids on the smaller end of the size spectrum?

Sadia is the single mother of 6-year-old identical twins, M and J. They live in the Austin, TX area, where Sadia works in higher education information technology.

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Sadia

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 10-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. They live in the Austin, TX suburbs, where Sadia works full time in information technology. She contributes to a number of parenting websites and magazines and also runs The Mommy Blogging Guide, where she answers mommy bloggers' technical questions.

5 thoughts on “Parenting Petite Kids”

  1. That flippant answer from your pediatrican about broken legs versus broken spines hacks me off every time I hear it.

    That whole question is a matter of balancing risks and the doctors don’t seem to take that into account in their recommendation. Accidents which could break a leg happen a lot more often than accidents that could break a spine.

  2. Still, considering they are all accidents and therefore unpredictable, I think the legXspine answer still holds its place.

    My kids are at the other side of the height/weight spectrum and I am sure sad that I have to let go their car seats (limit 18 kg) at 4, considering they were brought from the US by my sister who cannot repeat the feat now and that what they sell here in Brazil is very, very unsafe. No breast clips, flimsy buckles, argh. I am holding on the the old ones to the last gram.

  3. I feel your pain! Sophia [8 years, 10 months; she will be 9 years old on January 28], the little blonde girl we adopted from Azerbaijan, is very petite. For Halloween costumes, she needs a girls size 5-6. We have held her back in 2nd grade for catching up. She’s a beautiful slight girl with beautiful brown eyes, beautiful light brown hair, and needs GapKids Size 4-5 in girls. We are very concerned because some 7 year olds have physically surpassed her.

  4. Sophia is doing just fine. She is 8 and a half years old [will be 9 years old on January 28], is an Aquarius, has golden blonde hair, is of Persian stock, and is doing just fine. Because she’s in 2nd grade, she is on even terms with the other second-graders. She attends second grade at Ralya Elementary School, comes from a religious family, and is doing very well.
    She is still really tiny for 8 3/4 years old/almost 9, at only 3’10” and 40 pounds, but she’s still happy. Petite doesn’t bother her.

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