2010-04-08 / Church

Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson

Daughter’s Small Size May Not be a Matter of Genes

Question: My wife and I are above average in height, being sixfeet three-inches and five-feetnine inches tall. We both had rather tall parents, too. Nevertheless, our daughter is very tiny. She is nine years old and is only at the third percentile for height. What could be causing this, and what do you think we should do?

Dr. Dobson: There are many factors that influence a child’s growth, including a deficiency of growth hormones, heredity, nutrition and the status of the boy or girl’s general health. There is only one way to know what is causing your daughter’s failure to grow, and that is to take her to an endocrinologist or other physician who specializes in these problems. The right doctor can identify her condition and even predict with a fair amount of accuracy how tall she will eventually become. In some cases, growth hormones may be administered, although I’ll leave it to your physician to make that recommendation. Since your girl is nine years old, you have no time to lose. Get her to the right medical authority quickly.

Let me ask, by the way, is your daughter an anxious child?

Question: Yes, as a matter of fact, she is. Lannie is the most insecure of all our children. Why do you ask?

Dr. Dobson: Because some studies have shown that persistently anxious girls tend to be shorter than their peers. This was the finding of Dr. Daniel Pine of the National Institute of Mental Health and other research at Columbia University College of Physicians, New York. This research showed that the most insecure girls tended to be about two inches shorter as adults and were twice as likely to be under five-feet-two-inches tall than girls who were less anxious. Two specific disorders in the formative years were most predictive of less height in adults: (1) separation anxiety — seen in girls who don’t have the confidence to spend the night at a friend’s house or go away to summer camp; and (2) overanxiousness — not just being uneasy about a threat or problem, but a generalized worry about many things over years of time.

One study showed that anxious girls had high blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can stunt growth. Interestingly, anxious boys in the investigation were not found to have higher cortisol levels, and they did not tend to be shorter than their peers. This suggests that girls may respond to stress biologically differently than boys. For whatever reasons, anxiety is linked to lesser growth in females alone.

Once again, you need to have your daughter examined and evaluated medically. There may be a more obvious and treatable reason for her growth deficiency.

Question: Our children are all on their own now, and my husband and I are free to do some of the traveling we have always planned to do when we got them through college. But lately I feel too tired even to keep the house clean and too depressed to care about planning or doing anything extra. I’m only forty-six, yet some days I can hardly get out of bed in the morning. I just want to put my head under the pillow and cry — for no reason at all. So why do I feel so terrible? My husband is trying to be patient, but this morning he growled, “You have everything a woman could want. ... What do you have to be blue about?” Do you think I could be losing my mind?

Dr. Dobson: I doubt if there is anything wrong with your mind. The symptoms you describe sound as if you may be entering menopause, and if so, your discomfort may be caused by the hormonal imbalance that accompanies glandular upheaval. I suggest that you make an appointment to see a gynecologist or other physician in the next few days. He or she can help you.

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