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Normal or Advanced Development

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My daughter, who will be two in the next week, learned sign language at a very early age. It was a great form of communication and really helped bridge the gap before verbal development. My question is this; do any of you feel that it makes a child brighter? Everyone swears that her earlier communication has catapulted her ahead of her time.

At 23 months, she knows all shapes and will hand you the correct one when you ask for any of the following: octagon, pentagon, diamond/rhombus, oval/ellipse, square, triangle, rectangle, star, heart and circle. She sings her ABC's from A-Z without missing a beat. She recognizes letters and points to words, saying "ABC's Mommy!!" She knows letters make words. She knows the basic primary and secondary colors by site and will sort them into color categories. She speaks in 5-6 word sentences and everyone comments on the clarity of her speech. She is VERY animated! She loves to sing and dance (both being her favorite things beside books). Her teachers say she is an adult in a very tiny body.

I want her to have a good start in school, when that time comes, but I do not want her to be bored either. If she is a bright child, I want to know in order to plan for her as such.

Do you believe this is normal development or should I prepare for parenting a bright and gifted child?

A: It is interesting that she has learnt sign language at a very early age. Though, usually the very young develop the understanding of language and motor skills much faster than their ability to speak.

It is hard to determine if your girl is gifted at this point, and she is certainly too young for tests. She is very bright; children at this age are like sponges, they absorb a lot and sound nurturing and guide from caregivers is certainly a plus point. Instead of preparing for parenting if she is gifted, parents should always prepare for parenting regardless of their children's abilities.

For a bright child, you need to continue to nurture her abilities. The best way is to observe what her interests are and just use that a lead. For example, if you notice that she enjoys singing and dancing, supply her with various videos or CDs for her to listen and watch. Go a step further and do a video recording of her singing and dancing - children love watching themselves. When she is a little older, you may want to help her create her own song and music or even a dance step that the whole family can imitate. Here you are teaching the child to be creative and she may well use this in other activities. A bright child will quickly discover that exploring can result in other exciting activities and may soon learn to be very creative.

Having said that, activities should not be restricted to only what they enjoy but do also introduce new activities. The idea is not to force them to do something they may appear not to enjoy but to just introduce them to a variety of activities that they can use. If she may not appear to enjoy book as much, you may want to introduce the library to her, or have a small spot at home within her play area for reading. Decorate it as such that she would want to be in the area. Even if she still does not enjoy books, subtle exposure would surely help build interest over time.

At this stage, free play is of crucial importance. If too much rigidity and guide is enforced, a bright child may just burn out after a while. By having a variety of activities and exposure, even if school does not offer what parents may feel is beneficial for the child's development, the child would be able to make things work for her/him. Early exposure and fee play produces a creative child who is able to fit in most environments.

So my advice, do not plan too much, let nature take its course with some guidance and effort on your side. Remember, there must be a balance between guiding and free play - too much of each may not help the child, so you really need to find a good balance here so as to stimulate and challenge your child. Good luck!


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