5th Percentile


By Gabrielle. Images by Sarah of Modern Kids.

They were born 16 months apart, but for most of their lives, strangers have assumed Oscar and Betty are twins.

Oscar is a 7 and he’s a little guy. He hits the 5th percentile on the height charts. Betty is 6, but she’s average size — around 50th percentile for height. As you might be able to guess based on those numbers, Betty is now taller than Oscar!


Oscar hasn’t seemed to be too bothered by this fact. He understands that he’s still older, even though she’s taller. (That idea sunk in for him when I showed him pictures of my brothers and he could see that the tallest one is actually the youngest.) But this morning, I noticed the pair of pants he pulled on for school were getting to the flood stage and I said,”Wow, Oscar, you’re really growing! It’s time for new pants.” And he said, “Yep! I think I’m probably taller than Betty now.”

Clearly it’s on his mind. (And no, he’s not taller than Betty now.) Luckily, he seems to have a solid sense of confidence, so hopefully it won’t phase him too much.

Have you ever had a little sister pass up a big brother in size? Did it stress either of them out? Any wise words for Oscar? Would love your thoughts!

P.S. — Oscar weightlifting. Oscar’s horses. Also, remember the book Amy featured: Big Little Brother?

57 thoughts on “5th Percentile”

  1. I have a 5%-er too. Sam is 3 1/2 and his height is especially noticeable since the other 3 year olds in my neighborhood are all 95%-ers.

    I admit that I hate it and I worry about it. Because he’s 3 he doesn’t really get why he’s shorter and it really bothers him that he can’t climb the things the neighbor kids can climb.

  2. It’s almost a theme in both sides of our family! Maternal side, Brother M and Sister R were as you kids are, 15 months apart with big Brother falling short in height, and painfully thin as well, until after he was married in his mid 20s. We jokingly credit his lovely wife who makes everything from scratch!
    On Paternal side Brother T and Brother B, and also Brother J and Brother P were again, under two years apart with the younger brothers growing taller than the olders… until again in their mid 20s when everyone managed to even out after being married.
    In our children’s experiences Child 1 and Child 2 (22 mo apart) same thing, with Child one catching up in the mid 20’s after marriage. Now Child 1’s children are going through the tradition with little brother catching up rather rapidly to big brother although little brother is still crawling around on the floor.

    So evidently we have a gene that says every other kid will be shorter until they get married! Once that ring goes on, so does the height and some weight! Give it about 18 months and everyone levels out just fine.

    Wise words for Oscar:
    1. Quality not quantity, make the most of what you have dude, you’re great and good enough just like you are and the height *will* come.
    2. Some day you will like girls and they will like you back. Although some may see your lack height as a disadvantage, you’ll be at the *perfect* height for kissing a girl straight on (she won’t have to tilt her head back which means you can kiss longer without her getting a crik in her neck!)
    3. Along those lines… we have noticed that although “skinny” has accompanied “shorter”, the muscles are still there– as well as an added bonus of “QUICK!” What you lack in height can be made up for in speed, you’ll probably excel in sports where speed and efficient use of your muscles is a plus (read: no gangling knees/elbows everywhere stage that frustrates you and your coach) somehow you’ll be able to keep up your technique with your rate of growth making you a sports star in pretty much whatever you choose to participate.
    4. Because you will be shorter than your peers, the girls you’ll attract will be more concerned about *you* and the *real* qualities you possess rather than the superficial girls who go for the rich guy with the sports car… you don’t want that girl, she doesn’t even know you.

  3. Oh sweet Oscar! I’m sure he’ll pass Betty up at some point!

    My two youngest brothers were three years apart, but the younger one was always (still is) so much taller. People always thought they were twins (both blonde with blue eyes). I remember my mom always tried to point out why being short had its advantages. Silly things like ‘you can be better at hide-and-seek because you can fit into smaller spaces’, etc.

    I’m the oldest of five kids, but the shortest one. The youngest one is the tallest! You just never know!

  4. My two oldest kids are 2 years and 1 month apart. When they were younger, they were about the same height. People thought they were twins all the time. My son (the older of the two) hated that. Now he’s fifteen and nearly six feet tall. His sister is thirteen and about 5’5″. Give it time. :)

  5. My 3 year old daughter, who is normal to slightly small in size, is quickly catching up to my 6 year old daughter who is a petite little thing. Until recently my 6 year old never seemed too bothered by her size and has a healthy amount of confidence, spunk and presence. Lately she seems to be more aware of her size, especially when playing soccer. However, when she was in her first year of preschool, a classmate commented on her size and she told them “I might be little on the outside, but I’m big on the inside”. I asked where she came up with that and she said she thought of it herself! That describes her perfectly and anytime she seems bothered by her size, I remind her that she’s big on the inside.

  6. I could have written this post myself! My two daughters are 15 months apart, and similarly, my oldest is in the 5th percentile, while the younger one is in the 50th percentile. People have always assumed they were twins, and if I’m being honest, we kind of treat them that same way. They are incredibly close and share a room, and even wear the same size clothes!

    As for younger siblings being taller, my sister who is 5 years younger, passed me in height when I was in high school. I remember bringing her with me one day when I had to go get something from my locker. A senior friend of mine later asked me who the “hottie” was. I had to explain she was my 10 year-old sister!

  7. Two of our boys are 17 months apart. Of course the older is small, the younger is big. They are often mistaken for twins. Or that the younger is the elder. It used to really bother my son. He claimed at one point: “He’s fatter, not bigger” (Not the case. Little brother is skinny, too). Now that he is 11, he is getting used to it. And he has a better understanding of not judging people from the outside. From their size. From their weight (yes, he finally got it!). And has realized that hand me downs from his little brother can be kind of cool. Your children are beautiful. What a blessing.

  8. My husband and I are “vertically challenged” and so are our 3 kids. My youngest daughter though is really tiny, she is in the 1%-3%, she is 7 years old and still fits in lots of 4T and size 4-5 clothes they are on the verge of being too short, but she doesn’t have much fat on her body, so if we were to go up a size everything would just fall off her. Of course people always assume that she is in preschool, so she amazes everyone with how smart she is :). Funny thing is all her friends are in the 95th percentile or even taller, so it makes her smallness even more obvious. She doesn’t care right now…she tells people “I’m not small, I’m fun sized!”

  9. My two are 22 months apart. Except our situation is reversed…our daughter (almost 4) is the oldest and her little brother (2) is destined to pass up her any day now. We just took him to his 2 year well check-up and he is the same height and 1lb lighter than she was at 3 years. She keeps saying that she is bigger, so she can do more, have more, etc., but not for long…

  10. I was taller than my older brother for a summer. I’m sure he was sensitive about it but I was 12 and kind of wanted one on him. It wasn’t long before he surpassed me in height for good.

  11. My almost 10 year old only child is the size of an 7/8 year old. She is in about the 3% height wise. Mostly she doesn’t mind but she hates when kids try to pick her up. She definitely has a HUGE personality probably the biggest in her class so even though she’s small you can’t miss her!

  12. My sister and I are 5.5 years apart and I passed her when I was 9. I’m sure it bothered her! Our aunt (also petite) always told her, “Good things come in small packages.” (She would also tell me I had a “good understanding” — a reference to my rather large feet.)
    My guess is Betty’s attitude can influence how he feels about it. I can’t imagine she would give him a hard time about it. He’s darling and that has nothing to do with height!

  13. When I would talk about being short while I was a child my mom would always say “If your feet touch the floor you are tall enough!”

  14. I too could have written this post about my two oldest kids. They are 13 and 10, both heavily involved in sports, and my daughter towers over my son. With a lot of boys hitting puberty early at his age, he is constantly reminded of his small stature. My hope is that there is a lesson he needs to learn about patience, hard work, and character that will only benefit him in the years to come. While I don’t like labeling my children, it is important for them to know that they each have a different path with different talents and abilities that aren’t always defined by outward appearances. One thing that has helped our son is understanding that everyone peaks at a different time and it isn’t the worst thing if he gets there at 16 rather than 13.

  15. I have 2 brothers that are 6’3″. I have one brother who is 5’10”. I think it really bothered my brother growing up. He was a late bloomer so always slight and shorter. The other boys were always tall. It was really hard for him when our baby sister hit 6 feet. It wasn’t that he was short, but with siblings that were taller he felt like he was being compared to them. I think he realizes now it was probably more difficult to be a girl who is 6 feet in high school than a boy that is 5’10”. When you become an adult, you discover you are what you were always meant to be.

  16. i am the younger sibling, and was both taller and heavier than my older, more petite sister from about fourth grade until i graduated from high school. not the most fun to constantly be compared to your older sister.

    1. I fear my girls, who are 22 months apart will face this exact situation. Do you have any advice for me to help them both feel good about who they are? They are 4 and 5 now, but when they grow older, I think my youngest will be having the same feelings as you.

  17. Ah! Gabrielle, you have the sweetest children, and while I know you have no favorites, Oscar happens to be mine. Every time I hear an Oscar story or update, I smile to no end. He is in good company in the 5th percentile, as that is where my Moe resides. His older sister has always been in 75th or above, so the older may in fact be the tallest in the end for us. I do think Americans place more emphasis on height than Europeans. Maybe it’s all this wide, open space, I don’t know.

  18. he’s such a cutie!
    mine are all still in the toddler/baby stage and definitely not catching up to each other any time soon, but I do have personal perspective – I was once the taller child!

    There was a period of about 4-6 months where I was taller than my older brother, and now he’s 6’3″ (and I’m 5’4″). And I’m the shortest out of the 5 of us (even all the girls), too, never even getting taller than my mom :)
    It was good to be reminded by my parents that God makes each of perfect and unique and that He has a different plan for each of us, even in how we grow. (so that it was up to Him and no achievement of my own – good reminder for a driven girl)

    1. I thought I heard about that book on his site – it was on someone’s blog recently for sure. My boys are heading that way at age 5 and 3. Problem is the 5 is not short, the 3 is just a beanpole.

  19. As the 7th of 10 kids and the runt of the bunch, I’ve been dealing with this since I was 12. My younger brother (who was 4 years younger than I) passed me up, which wasn’t that tramatic, however when I started getting hand-me-downs from my younger sisters (respectively 8 and 10 years my junior) I was rather put out. At 16 I was the shortest, and now that we’re all grown I am a good 6 inches shorter than the next individual.

    Way back when my siblings or other children teased me about my petite size I could always stop the tormentor with, “the best things come in small packages” or ” because God makes each person perfect I obviously met the standards of perfection quicker.”

    Now that I’m older, I have found my petite size to be a blessing. I can point out that my nieces and nephews think I’m the youngest because I’m the smallest (an instant pick-me-up if you feel old). I can also point out that I never have to search for the tall versions of clothing, and if the regular is too long, I can always alter down (something virtually impossible to do when you’re too tall for the regular :) )

  20. That is so funny, our oldest two are two years apart. Our son is older but they aren’t that different in size and people think they’re twins pretty often, too. It’s so funny to me because they’re 25 months apart.

  21. Awww! He is just precious!! My youngest boy it veeeerrrryyyy small for his age. He just turned four and people often as if he and his 2 year old sister are twins (and she is pretty small for her age, too!)… He’s compensates for lack of height in just plain cuteness. :)

  22. I have a 50th percentile 5 year old and an off-the-charts 2 year old. While the 5 year old still has a few inches on her “little” brother, they weigh about the same. We have been warning her since day one that, while she will always be older, she won’t always be bigger. My husband outgrew his older brother (3 years difference) by 3 years old. I think it is easier when a little brother is the one who is bigger than when it is a little sister who gets bigger than her older brother. It seems you guys do a great job emphasizing each member of your family’s strengths & that nobody feels their worth is wrapped up in their height.

  23. I come from a short family but my sister married a very tall man. Their 4 kids are 5’9, 6’6(!!), 5’1, and 5’6. The boys are 6’6 and 5’1. We keep telling my nephew he’ll get taller soon, but he’s almost 16 and is losing hope. Luckily he’s the funniest, coolest kid I’ve ever met, so he doesn’t seem to mind too much.

  24. I bet things will change in puberty. I was always taller than my twin brother until jr high. 16 months apart? Oy vey!

  25. My 6 year old daughter is about to overtake her almost 9 year old brother. She’s going to be tall – he’s going to be average. Can’t change the genes.

  26. Ah, people ask if my children are twins all the time! The challenge: our kiddos are nearly three years apart. My son, who is 8, is a very skinny five percenter and always has been. His little sister already outweighs him and is closing in on his height. Apparently, I am much more bothered by it then he is, but the doc says as long as he is growing at the same pace–which he is, albeit a very slow one–all is okay.

    I do think he thinks about it from time to time. He excels at soccer but struggles with basketball, a sport he loves. And he gravitates to boys in his class who are similarly vertically challenged. That doesn’t extend to his choice of ladies though…his little crush is easily a foot taller than he is!

    The only thing that seems to bother him when it comes to the size comparison between himself and his sister is that she gets new clothes and shoes more often than he does because she actually grows out of things! Mindful of that, I’ve tried to rotate in a few new things even if he doesn’t need them. :)

  27. I have a son & daughter that are 20 mos. apart and this is one of my worries, too. My son is in the 50% for height, but little sis is in the 97%. So they get mistaken for twins, wear nearly the same size shoes, etc. One thing I’ve noticed (& take this w/ a grain of salt b/c I am not a medical professional): my daughter always sleeps longer than my son. He’s up an hour (or two) before she is, and she takes longer naps as well. If our bodies grow when we sleep, maybe that’s the key?? Just an idea.

  28. Im the eldest of 5 and the shortest. My husband’s eldest brother is the shortest of his 5 siblings, too (including a sister). He always jokes he got the worst deal.

    Never bothered me. People still assume I’m younger as I’m shortest .. And I’m knocking on 30 :-)

    1. One last thing – I thought my son would be petit like me. He is a giant! Taller than most of his peers and cousins that are older than him.

  29. Oh goodness… Last time I went home for a visit, my little brother was taller than me. I am almost 30, and he is about to turn 13. Also, his feet are already way bigger than mine – he gave me a pair of converse he had grown out of! crazy.

  30. Gray is 7 and the 2nd smallest in his class. Ivy is FOUR and about to pass him up in clothing size… and getting close in height! He’s always been on the small side and it doesn’t seem to bother him- when he told me he was one of the smallest at school he said it so carefree. And I get so excited when his clothes are finally too short on him!!


  31. My oldest is in the 12th percentile and my youngest is around the 50th percentile. People ALWAYS think they’re twins. So far it doesn’t seem to be an issue, but I’m sure someday it will come up. They’re only 4 and 2 now so so far so good!

  32. My oldest is in the 10th percentile and his little brother is 50th. Despite a three year age difference (9 and 6), they are nearly the same height, and we are constantly asked if they are twins.

    Big brother takes it in stride. He is a great gymnast and super strong. I love his confidence and have no fear that his height will be a challenge in life. He,like Oscar, has too many great things going for him!

  33. Our 5yo was in the 5th percentile for a long, long time and just moved into the 20th. He doesn’t have siblings, but the height difference is very noticeable in school (where he is in a K-2 class and is clearly the smallest K’er).

    When he sometimes mentions other kids are taller than him (usually younger kids), I remind him that he wants to be an astronaut and astronauts are usually a bit shorter than average – it has something to do with the weight per strength ratio necessary for training and the size limitations of space flight. A few weeks ago he separately met 2 very tall men (both helicopter pilots), both of whom told him that they too wanted to be astronauts when they were his age, but grew too tall!!

    Most of the time he is ok with it. He is an amazing climber, rode a 2-wheeler by age 3 (without training wheels) and can hike 8 miles up and down a small mountain with no complaints. Most of his friends can’t do that! :)

  34. Oh, Oscar. I’m the oldest in my family, and I’m also the shortest. I realized this during this past summer. You see, I don’t see my family all that often because we don’t live in the same state. Kinda like you.

    There’s six of us. My youngest brother, who is fourteen and also the youngest of my siblings, just passed my mom in height. And since my mom has always been slightly taller than me (whose mom shouldn’t be?) then I’m now the shortest. sigh. I still love my family and am still happy to see them.

  35. Love this! I’m glad Oscar isn’t bothered. If it helps, all through primary school I had a crush on a boy who was at least a head shorter than me. In year 7, we’d present school assemblies together and people would ALWAYS comment on the height difference. I thought he was PERFECT and I wished desperately that I was shorter. :)
    We’re now 17 and the same height – both around 5’10”. Height really isn’t a big deal.

  36. What a sweet boy. At 25 years old, I stand at 4’8″ tall. I’m a girl so that makes being short a little easier. BUT I will say that God has really grown my character through looking a little different as I grew up (and through my parents championing me to go after all of my interests and not be held back by my height They let me do all the things my siblings did and didn’t compare me to them ever.) Oscar seems like a well adjusted kid, with great parents, so I’n sure he’ll do great! And King David was shorter than average but God used him in crazy huge ways.

  37. Our two are nearly two years apart our boy is older. They’re adults now but all through childhood she was either taller than him or they were the same height. It was only a problem once when she was able to get on the roller coaster and he wasn’t. That was a difficult day. It all changed in high school, she stopped growing and he kept going. I have a wall in my house filled with pencil marks with dates, names and measurements. It became a game for us. Who is taller now? She is now a tall young woman, he is average for men, they both tower over me. They passed me up around the ages of 10 and 12 so I’m used to it by now. I still remember the day I realized they were looking me in the eye! Good luck, reassure your son that he just grows a little slower but he’ll catch up soon enough.

  38. Out of our three sons, the middle one is the shortest. I always tell my son he might still grow even though he is 18. We have our fingers crossed. It isn’t unheard of for boys to continue to grow into their late teens. The problem is, he’s just a little man. I continue to hope, even though he hasn’t changed shoe or clothes sizes in at least a year plus. I have to say though, even though he is the shortest of our boys, he is the most athletely talented and I think that really helps his self esteem. Of course we think he is adorable, very good looking and has a wonderful personality, his height doesn’t matter to us. We are just hoping for a few extra inches because he is hoping.

  39. I was the bigger, younger sibling to a smaller older brother… We were always assumed to be twins or worse that I was the older one. To a point I loved it, but he was still stronger… and usually proved it. For the most part it balanced out late in High School, but even now we are about the same height. I know he was frustrated by it at times…but our parents told him..it’s just the way your genes are…and you have to live with what you have. He figured out that his body was built for running and speed…mine caused me to be built for tripping and falling…I did mostly out grow that too..

  40. Gabrielle, for many years our son was not even on the growth chart, by the end of elementary school he was in the 5th percentile, he was very athletic, well liked and doing well in school. When he started middle school he was literally the smallest person in school. I volunteered frequently at school and one day a teacher took me aside and told me her son was the tiniest child as well and a doctor had told her he should see an endocrinologist. Long story long, we met with a pediatric endocrinologist, who measured me, my husband, took a lengthy family history,did several tests and concluded our son had a severe growth hormone deficiency. We did a lot of soul searching, as we are a family that believes natural, non-medical is usually the way to go. The doctor really convinced us that it was a disservice to our son to not give him every opportunity to reach his potential in every way, and growth hormone therapy would not work, or even be offered if a child was not deficient, it only helps if the body is not producing enough. Our son had a predicted height of 5’4″ if we did not treat him, today he is a 25 year old young man who is 5’11”. I know in my heart we did the right thing. I urge you to at least think about this.

    1. We are in a similar situation with our son, CC. He is very small–barely on the charts–but athletic and smart as a whip. His younger brother (2.5 years younger) is in the 90th percentile and close to beating him in height. He may already have him in weight. My oldest is not pleased, but doesn’t say much. Our son’s pediatrician said to give it another year before we consider seeing an endocrinologist. Your story makes me feel better. Thank you.

      I’m worried because my younger brothers had the same exact situation, and it bothered the older brother tremendously. I believe it affected him psychologically for years. (Lots of insecurities, anger, sadness, etc.) I think how the child takes it also depends a lot on personality, and my oldest doesn’t share my introverted brother’s personality. Still, that sadness my brother had is never far from my mind.

  41. Interestingly I was the taller younger sister and I disliked it. A lot. I was taller than all my brother’s friends, too. There may come a time when it’s not just about Oscar but Betty as well. HTH

  42. I had a nephew who was really small (thin and short) until he was well into his teenage years. He caught up big-time! I have another nephew who was quite tall, but even he grew another 3-4 inches after he graduated high school!

    Up until I a couple of years ago, my littlest one was at a 5%er and he’s already sprouting up. (He’s 5.)

    He might be saving it up for an impressive race for the finish line!

  43. the same happened to me: i have a younger cousin who is two years younger than me and she was taller than me up to the age of 13 when i grew a lot! But i remember that i was not sad at all about this… and i enjoied the fact that she could easily carry me around on her back when i was tired!

    So tell Oscar that in ages 7-13 being shorter for boys is absolutely normal because girls grow faster… and be sure he will tower her in a few years! So never mind and enjoy being so cute and lovely! :)

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