Parenting Gifted Children
Children differ in their physical, social and intellectual development from the day they are born. Because of these differences parents walk a fine line with their preschoolers determining the difference between a truly gifted or precious child. Mozart possessed an extraordinary talent from his toddler years and died penniless at the age of 36, while Thomas Edison was considered an academic and behavior problem until his late teen years. There is no unique characteristic or single event that designates giftedness.
According to Richard Culyer of the Department of Early Childhood and Elementary Education at Coker College in Hartsville, S.C., there are a number of things a parent can look for, such as walking and talking early.
"The absence of these examples doesn't necessarily mean that a child might not be gifted," he says. "Other indicators are a large vocabulary, excellent memory, interests in many things and an exceptional ability in a particular subject."
Signs of a Gifted Child
The Council for Exceptional Children identifies the early signs of giftedness as:
- Abstract reasoning and problem solving skills
- Rapid progression through developmental milestones
- Early and extensive language
- Early recognition of caretakers
- Enjoyment and speed of learning
- Extraordinary memory
- Very high activity level
- Intense reaction to pain, noise or frustration
- Sensitivity and compassion
- Very alert in infancy
- Has a very vivid imagination
These are just a few typical factors stressed by Culyer and other authorities as being indicators of giftedness. No child is outstanding in all of the above areas, and there is a group of children that the state of Florida calls "Plan B children," who don't show the gifted traits at an early age. Yet, when they start school and are placed in an environment that stimulates them, they may be what Culyer calls "late bloomers." Culyer says Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison are examples of Plan B children.
The parent who thinks their child may be gifted must decide if their child should be tested or not. "I suspected that my son might be gifted when he started reading at the age of 3," says Regina Hubbard, a first grade teacher and mother. "Here we had a child reading and yet he'd get mad and punch his older sister in the stomach when she took away his favorite toys. I didn't want to look like any of the pushy parents I've dealt with as a first grade teacher myself."
Hubbard and her husband had their son tested by a psychologist certified to administer various tests. "We decided to have him tested," she says. "I knew that many school programs put a child in a program that goes with their weaknesses rather than strengths."
Today their 3-year-old son is now a 23-year-old man and a college graduate working in the forestry industry. "For us it was the right choice," says Hubbard. "I really had to think long and hard about having him tested and push for programs geared to his advanced intellectual development. We always remembered that despite his intellectual level he was at the same level of social and physical development as other children his age."
At What Age Should They Be Tested?
Culyer and other educators agree that the age of 4 is the best time to test a child. "When testing a preschooler, the Weschler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI) is given," says Culyer. "It gives us a base to start with. Parents need to remember that children develop at their own rate. Gifted children experience peaks in learning. Once again the presence of talking early may signal giftedness, but the absence doesn't mean that it isn't there either. It is the parent's decision to have the child tested before they start preschool. If the child is gifted, I advise them to be sure that the child doesn't become lazy and should remain challenged."
Most of all, a parent needs to be aware of the vast gap that gifted children like Hubbard's son experienced. "At the age of 4 he could tell you all about the root system of a tree and become frustrated because he had trouble learning to tie his shoes," says Hubbard.
Leanne Register, an Atlanta, Ga., housewife with a master's degree in literature, found herself hiding her beloved romance books from her 6-year-old daughter who read at a high school level. "Jody would want me to explain sexual things that she just didn't need to know about at 6," says Register. "You just don't expect a 6-year-old to use such terms. I found it difficult to change the subject and remind myself this was the same child that had gotten in trouble in class for passing a note and talking to another child."
Culyer advises parents to be aware of the unique development patterns present in gifted children because it can help them and their child to adjust expectations of academic knowledge and maturity levels. Until a parent can get their child into a program or school there are some things that they can do together, including:
- Compare and contrast things such as two people or animals.
- Have your child group things differently and tell you what is different and similar.
- While watching television or reading a book ask your child to tell you what may happen.
- Ask your child about what could happen in certain situations.
- Create your own story.
- Use cooking to teach measurement.
- Let the child set up a store with real coins to introduce money and math.
A child should be tested to provide deeper understanding for the parents and to help them provide a better education to their child. The results of testing show if the child will benefit from advanced classes and activities. The only problem with testing at the preschool level, according to the National Association for Gifted Children, is that it may be less reliable than for older students.
The Role of the Preschool Teacher
Educators and psychologists agree that learning occurs when there is a match between the child and the challenge of new learning material. "It is up to the teacher to challenge the student and not allow them to hide their skills to fit in with their class," says Hubbard. "A parent should tell a teacher that a child has a fluent reading ability and work with the teacher. It is hard to observe advanced intellectual abilities in a class with 25 students."
Parents are advised to help their children find true friends and permit the friendship to grow. Most of all parents and teachers need to be aware of the child's learning needs and provide a program that allows the child to learn in the company of their peers.
The Pros and Cons of Being Labeled 'Gifted'
Raising a gifted child can be an exciting yet daunting task. The first step is to be positive and keep your sense of humor. Persistence and stubbornness are the same trait, but at different times can take a parent to the limit. A parent needs to understand that a child's giftedness affects their needs at all levels of development. Remember, knowledge is power and you might have to educate the teachers at times.
Culyer suggests a parent help their child to develop personal interests and talents. "Expose your child to the world around them such as art, nature, public service, compassion and sports," says Culyer. "Be sure to teach your child that failure is something to be learned from and it is nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn't diminish them as a person."
Parents should also not relay the message that because a child is gifted, he is smarter or better than other siblings. Every child is equal and gifted in his or her own right. Teaching a gifted child to be considerate and have respect along with a work ethic prepares them for the real world.
The key to raising happy gifted children is to respect their uniqueness, their opinions and ideas along with their dreams. It can be as painful for parents as their children when they feel out of place with others, but don't put too much emphasis on fitting in. They get enough of this from the world around them.