Most children begin to use single words sometime between 12 and 18 months and do not put words together until around 2. History and folklore are full of children who gave evidence of giftedness at an early age. Shirley Temple, for example, performed lengthy dance routines and displayed complex emotions for her various movie roles at age 3.
Various labels move in and out of favor, and “gifted” now is the one most acceptable for children with outstanding abilities. Some 70 years ago, a Stanford University psychologist, Lewis M. Terman, began the first systematic study of unusually bright children and exploded many myths. He found, for example, that such children tended to be extraordinarily capable in more than one area, had broad rather than narrow interests, were healthier, more stable emotionally, and even slightly larger than children in the general population.
Actually, it’s not too difficult to know if your child is gifted. Most of the indicators involve achieving developmental milestones significantly earlier than other children, although some characteristics involve a child’s doing things in ways that are qualitatively different from the way most children do them. Here are some indicators of giftedness in your children:
A gifted child will be extremely observant and, as she learns to speak, will comment on things or ask questions about something she has noticed. Questions will be specific and relevant. Gifted children can amaze you with the array of details from something that happened a long time ago. The child may be upset if interrupted or forced to change activity. Gifted children often like to work by themselves, using others only as resources to provide information not otherwise available or help that is absolutely essential. They are self-starters and can work for long periods without constant encouragement from others.
Gifted children may sometimes frustrate their parents by not playing with a toy in the way parents (and toy manufacturers) think it should be used. A car engine becomes a generator to provide lights for the cabin.
A baby will turn toward the stereo when a familiar piece of music is played. The creations of a child gifted in art will display unusual complexity and will most likely include many details.
They show an early interest in reading and writing. Very often gifted children will notice the different letters that make up words, will figure out exactly where you are reading and point to the word, will discern the difference between capital and lower case letters. Some people worry that gifted children will be selfish and totally egocentric, but this is not the case. In child care for example, a gifted child may be the first to get a teacher if another child is hurt.
Some gifted children will have virtually all of those characteristics, others only a few. There also are some gifted children who do not display any significant indicators of talent early in life and who at first may even appear “slow” in certain areas. But in general, gifted children will show a cluster of indicative behaviors fairly early in life.
The gift will mean nothing unless it is nurtured, both by the child and by the important adults in the child’s life. Just as we have many stereotypes about gifted children, so do we have some about their parents.