Archive for Friday, July 21, 2000

Daughter’s condition needs attention

Focus on the family

July 21, 2000


My wife and I are above average in height, being 5 foot 9 inches and 6 foot 3 inches. We both had rather tall parents, too. Nevertheless, our daughter is very tiny. She is 9 years old and is only at the third percentile for height. What could be causing this, and what do you think we should do?

There are many factors that influence a child's growth, including a deficiency of growth hormones, heredity, nutrition and the status of the boy's 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 some 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

9 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?

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

Because some recent studies have showed that persistently anxious girls tend to be shorter than their peers. This was the finding of Dr. Daniel Pine and others at Columbia University College of Physicians in New York. They found that the most insecure girls tended to be about 2 inches shorter as adults, and twice as likely to be under 5 foot 2, 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 to 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 biologically to stress differently than do boys. For whatever reasons, anxiety is linked to lesser growth in females alone.

Did either of your children experience night terrors?

No, but our daughter once had a very unusual nightmare. When she was 4 years old, she woke up screaming around midnight. When I came to her bed, she told me excitedly that the wall was about to collapse on her.

She was obviously very frightened by the dream. I took her hand and said, "Danae, feel that wall. It has been there a long time. It isn't going to fall. You are OK. Now go back to sleep."

As she settled down in the covers, I went back to bed and was quickly asleep again. But six hours later, a powerful earthquake rattled the city of Los Angeles and shook my wife and me right out of bed. I rushed to Danae's room to bundle her up and get her out of the way of that wall, which was jumping and shaking like crazy.

James Dobson is president of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80903; or Questions and answers are excerpted from "Solid Answers," published by Tyndale House.

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