Short Height in Children

Child at a pediatrician office getting height measured.

Your child seems short next to other children of the same age. Should you worry? Most likely, you don't need to. 

Some children grow more slowly than others. Height in the low normal range is still normal, healthcare providers say. If the parents are short, it is likely that their children will be, too.

Ask your child's healthcare provider  

Although being short is common, growth disorders are not. Don't ignore your concerns—talk with your child's healthcare provider. During well-child checkups, your child's height and weight are measured. These measurements are compared to other children of the same age.

Growth and growth problems

Periods of less rapid growth may follow growth spurts, so it is important to evaluate growth over an extended period of time. A small child who stops growing may have a problem. Long-term (chronic) illness, poor nutrition, and hormone problems can also affect growth.

Testing and diagnosis

The best test to keep track of your child's growth is the growth chart. Each year, your child's height and weight are plotted on a chart by their healthcare provider. It's the growth rate that's most important to watch. Your child may need tests if the provider thinks your child has a growth problem. These tests may include an X-ray of the hand and wrist, called a bone age X-ray. This can show how much further growth your child has left. Blood tests may be done if the provider thinks your child may have a systemic or hormonal disease. In general, if your child's growth rate is consistent, more evaluation is often not needed. But if the growth rate slows, or if your child's overall height is below the 3rd percentile for their age, then further evaluation may be done.

Causes of short height

Here are some common causes of short height:

  • Family history. For example, short parents often have short children.

  • Growth delay. This means your child will eventually grow to a height that is within normal limits. Your child's growth will be later than other children of the same age.

  • Illnesses that affect the whole body

  • Poor nutrition

  • Hormone diseases, such as lack of thyroid or growth hormones

  • Medicine side effect

  • Chromosome abnormalities

  • The child is healthy, and there's no known cause for short height (idiopathic short height)

Prescribing hormones

Can growth hormones help? Yes, but only in some children. And only if the hormones are given before the bones finish growing. If you're concerned about your child's height, talk with their healthcare provider to see if growth hormone therapy might be appropriate.