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Issue of Burning out for the Highly Gifted Baby

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My 19 months old daughter is a whiz in mathematics. This may sound unbelievable. She spoke her first words when she was only 6 weeks old and progressed rapidly ever since. By the seventh month, she could identify all the basic colors, the alphabets (both small & capital letters) and many pictures of common objects. Soon, I found myself teaching her basic algebra after she memorized the times table (1 to 12) over night. She was only 40 weeks old then. My question is: Is there any risk of burning out? Sometimes, I feel she is the one who is dragging me along on this incredible ride. She is too difficult to handle if she finds herself in a rut. Thanks a lot.

A: What you had described is amazing! From your description, your 19 month old girl is highly gifted. I totally understand your concerns on the risk of burning out, which can happen if due attention is not given to the abilities.

Unfortunately, information about highly gifted infants is often scattered, retrospective, and anecdotal, which makes it difficult to learn more from previous records. Unlike developmentally delayed or mentally challenged children, our knowledge about highly gifted babies is relatively little. This may be simply due to the fact that identification is harder at such a young age, so much so that the population reported is very much lesser that the counterparts. Because of this, gifted infants have seldom been researched or studied. Therefore, there isn't adequate data about this population.

Nevertheless, despite the lack of research, parents can keep detailed baby books, journals, audiotapes of early language development, and work samples for all of their children to keep track of their developmental advancements. Families with older identified highly gifted siblings are especially encouraged to keep developmental records on a new baby. Therefore, if you plan on another baby, you may want to do this.

As for the issue of burning out, I'm afraid there is no definite answer to it. Highly gifted children who are not intellectually stimulated and challenged may well be victims of their own intelligence. Parents play a very important part in the early stages of development that is providing children with a very conducive and stimulating learning environment. These children need to be engaged most of the time. So when a gifted child keeps complaining about boredom, you may want to pay a little more attention to her/his needs. Unrealized potential can also cause burn out. It is very important that these children have meaningful activities to do, during and out of school hours. Burning out usually occurs when the child is older, especially in secondary school. For the younger group, parental approval is crucial when they are younger but as they grow older, they have a mind of their own and their needs may override everything else. Therefore, make sure these children are doing work that has meaning to them.

You have been doing very well so far, especially teaching basic algebra to an infant. Hence, I believe you are on the right track, so just go along with her development and determine what needs to be done after accomplishment of each leaning stage. This is not going to be easy as she grows older but the returns can be amazingly satisfying. Happy parenting!


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