Percentiles and Competitiveness

Baby J is almost a year old now! It has been such an amazing year with all its lows and highs. I’ll write more about that in future blogs but for now, I wanted to write about percentiles and useless nature of their potential for competitiveness among parents.

Yesterday at a playdate, my friend bragged about her 6 month old son’s height being in the 90th percentile. Given my limited understanding of percentiles, I was happy for her – after all, her baby was indeed taller than 90% of the babies his age. What got me somewhat ruffled was when she continued on to compare him with J and said that her baby was almost as tall as J who has a good 5.5 months older. Why compare? How does it matter? Why make the other person feel bad by insinuating that her baby was in comparison, not as tall as he should be for his age? That is not a fair thing to do or say to a parent. Our egos are so embroiled into the growth and well-being of our children that it hurts when someone else, especially a mother, compares her kid or any other kid unfavorably to your own. The point of course is to not compare at all. All kids grow at their own pace.

Baby J has never been off the percentile charts. He has always been on the low end of the growth spectrum with his head circumference, height, as well as weight falling solidly in the late teens, twenties, or forties. The only exception was height at his 9 month appointment where suddenly he was at the 75 percentile. I have to admit though, that, that did make me feel happy.

As an organizational researcher, I know anecdotally and empirically, that height does make a difference in others’ perceptions of you as a leader. In fact, there is also some research that shows that height is directly proportional to salary increases – let’s say none of this research is even true – fact of the matter is that indeed, height matters. When you are the taller person in the room, people notice, you often bring a certain assumed expertise, confidence, and gravitas to the context (suspending judgment on other issues and factors that influence these variables momentarily).

So, my wish for my son is to indeed me a tall person, in height and stature, in personality and character, literally and figuratively. Given that he is not genetically gifted with tall genes, he has some struggle to overcome there but then so what – We as parents, as family, or even his friends (should he choose wisely) are not going to like him any less because he is tall “enough”. Even not-so-tall people have the same rate of success or failure as as tall people, I would think – so why is it such a big deal. Why compare kids’ heights and unleash a competitive vibe in what should be a calm, non-competitive, comfortable mother-child interactive space.

According to Cimons (2012), “As long as a child continues to gain weight and height proportionally over the years — even if he or she remains in a lower-than-average percentile — it is an indication of steady growth.”

The above is how I have approached percentiles although had my son been off the charts in the percentile ranges, I might have bragged too but because he isn’t, it is easier for me to dismiss these numbers and argue about their uselessness or lack of significance. There are a number of articles in cyber space that discuss how percentile growth charts cause parents anxiety if the number aren’t what they expect them to be. To those parents (myself included), I will only say – It really does not matter. My son is doing great, as I am sure you child is too. Every child develops at his or her own pace. Every child will also invariably have a growth spurt so hang in there. We’re in it together, for higher or lower numbers – Believe in the sisterhood of motherhood (and parenthood, in general) and don’t let other parents’ perhaps unintentional yet somewhat hurtful comparisons against your child pull you down.

P.S. I understand that “normal” growth may be interpreted differently when it comes to children with genuine developmental struggles. I absolutely do not mean to offend anybody. In fact, I want to be inclusive and would argue that even kids with developmental challenges have their own pace of growth and without doubt, should not be compared to other kids with similar concerns or anybody else for that matter.

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