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Gifted and Highly Imaginative

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My husband and I wonder if our 5 year old is gifted. She has always had an imagination that is by far more than just an imaginary friend. She has had several "friends" at a time from the time she was 2 1/2 if not before. At the age of 3 she would tell us names that didn't sound familiar almost foreign and then say they were from various countries such as India. Then she developed an entire imaginary family but she would use words like "my imaginary mama or imaginary brother" and so on. She would tell us detailed and elaborate stories of this family and it seemed when she would get frustrated by a situation she would just go into her imaginary family mode. At five she still talk and plays with her "imaginaries" as she calls them, but now she teaches them.

Last year we began homeschooling our older children (10 yo twins) and since we needed something to keep her occupied we started her in kindergarten at the age of 4 year 4 months (April 13th b-day). She already knew her colors, shapes, numbers to 10 and all of her letters so we figured K. was the best place to start. Coloring completely bored her, and on days we would start new task such as addition, subtraction and time, she seemed not attentive and very distracted. I figured that she was not interested and not paying attention but then the next day I would give her a practice page and she would do the work without any hesitation and without any questions. It was like she mastered things so quickly that it bored her. I actually was looking for things that might stump her so I could actually teach her but everything I came up with she mastered and moved on.

We have just started her 1st grade year. She remembers everything that we go over. She can tell you who sewed the 1st flag and what things stand for on the flag. She asked me how to spell doctor the other day and I was busy with my other girls. I asked her to wait just a moment, a minute later she was saying look mom Doctor Olivia. She had drawn the picture and sounded the word out herself. Her only mistake was she had spelled it doctor.

She has a love for music, a long attention span, can carry on a conversation with adults even adults she does not know, a very large vocabulary and masters things and becomes bored with it.

Here is my question. Should I have her tested so that I can gear her schoolwork around her abilities. As with most curriculums, her year this year has started with review. She is totally bored with it. Should I move on and just skip repetitive learning? I don't want to hinder her or not push her to her full ability. Any advice?? Also she still has her imaginary family (been around for several years now), is there a time that I should become worried with her huge imagination of these people in her life.

A: Your daughter clearly demonstrates distinct qualities of gifted children, that too in the higher range. It is excellent that you have noticed her gifts and are working towards nurturing them.

A little bit on imaginary friends. This is indeed a positive part of growing up for any child. It is a sign of vivid imagination and especially for gifted children; they may have more than one imaginary friend with rather complicated roles compared to their non gifted counterparts (due to their ability to construct higher level thinking). Research over the years describe having imaginary friends as a normal part for children to deal with issues in her/his way and also to work on any fears and insecurities, which is a good coping skill. Studies also describe a child's need to create an imaginary companion as a desire to achieve competence and mastery. For example, an imagery friend that is more competent than the child represents the desire of the child to be competent (this is done by emulating the imaginary friend) and vice versa.

It is best for parents to allow children to keep imaginary friends for as long as they need - these "friends" usually vanish gradually when they have real friends especially during the mid-primary years (usually about 10 years, if not earlier). However, parents need to be cautious that interaction with the imaginary friend does not take over interaction with real people. This means, if your child has an exclusive relationship with an imaginary friend and does not have friends in reality, avoids real people interaction, or if your child tells you that her friend tells her to do things that she does not want to do, this needs to be taken seriously. This warrants for a discussion this with a pediatrician or a child therapist.

Testing would be a good idea if you want to determine her areas of strengths and weaknesses so as to help her further develop her abilities and work on her weaker areas. Find out if the school has any provision for children with higher abilities. Otherwise, she would keep getting bored at school and it may affect her schooling in the future. Repetitive learning can be very boring for a bright mind and she will switch off in no time. If the school is not able to help her develop her abilities, you ay want to look for another school that does. Alternatively, if there are not schools available in your area to cater for her needs, you may want to consider homeschooling her since you are already homeschooling your twins. Here's wishing you all the best!


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