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Nurturing a Gifted Toddler

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I never thought I'd be the parent who thought their child was gifted because my wife is a teacher and she always has at least one parent every year who thinks their child is gifted (but they really aren't). Anyway, my son just turned 2 years old and he appears to be much smarter than other kids his age. Here are some of the things he can do (has done most of these for at least 6 months):

  • Count to 30 on his own and recognizes all numbers

  • Can say and recognize every letter in the alphabet

  • Can spell his name verbally

  • Knows all the basic shapes and about 10 colors

  • Can go through kindergarten picture flashcards and identify every object (most he remembered after the first time learning them)

  • Knows dozens of animals and their corresponding sounds - even corrects you if you call it the wrong name - including obscure ones like a kudu!

  • Can say the first 10 presidents in order by their number (i.e. Andrew Jackson was the 7th president) and knows by sight at least 30 presidents' pictures

  • Loves to sing and dance

  • Is more interested in individual play than group play and is definitely not a physical kid

These are some of the things that seem to set him apart from other kids his age and I want to nurture his intelligence the right way and not push him. But he truly loves to learn new things and typically remembers after only being told once. The president thing is especially freaky and we are commonly asked by friends what we did with him to make him so smart. We haven't done anything other parents wouldn't do!

Does my son appear to show gifted qualities or can you even tell when they're only 2 yrs old? If so, what should we do or continue to do to nurture his intelligence?

A: From your description, based on age related ability, your son appears to be gifted – and you are definitely not a parent who thinks their child is gifted and really is not! Yes, some distinct traits of the young gifted can be seen when they are very young (studies have shown that gifted traits can be even be obvious with an infant). In your son's case, he surely shows typical gifted characteristics especially when you mention that you are doing what most parents do.

The best thing for a young gifted child to do is to be able to explore his/her surrounding that feeds the needs for that extra stimulation. So providing him with educational materials that challenges and stimulate his thinking would be a great start. Monitor and observe his strengths and use activities that interest him to motivate him further. At this age, they should be provided with a variety of materials to determine what really interests them. At the same time, also monitor his dislikes. Say, if you find that he dislikes “numbers” related activities, find a different way to nurture that interest. Use measurements, for example to introduce the concept of numbers and simple math. Instead of direct math related activities, you can actually introduce simple math using measurement scales – e.g., by the beach, a pail of sand, half a pail of sand, etc. As long as the activity requires stimulation and interests the child, it would surely help the child learn.

Apart from direct learning, there are other ways to expose a young gifted child. For example, museum visits, field trips, visiting a farm, nature walk, etc. What is crucial here is the variety of activities. At the same time, allow for a good amount of free play – avoid “over guiding”. Parents sometimes get carried away and provide too much stimulation, and may not allow the child to self explore with limited time for free play. Allow the child to be on his own exploring the learning materials you have provided. For example, even if he is not able to complete a puzzle, get him to keep trying instead of running to his aid. When the child gets used to parents who keep helping them, it may deter them to think for themselves and always wanting parents to help out. This may slow down the development of their cognitive abilities.

Do also read as much as you can on giftedness for greater awareness and if possible, join a local association for gifted children. Sharing information on parenting gifted children is one of the best ways to help nurture a gifted child. Here's wishing you the very in your parenting journey. Good luck!


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