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Potentially a Gifted Toddler

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I am a math tutor and my daughter (currently 22 months) goes with me to tutor students. She has been able to identify all the letters of the alphabet and count out loud to 30 since she was 17 months old. She also has the vocabulary and language skills of a 3/4 year old child. When we go to the park she plays with the older children. Yesterday, during a tutoring session, she was sitting quietly and looking at a book. She does this very often, but when I went over to clean up and leave she asked if she could read the book to me. She "reads" me books at home, but these are stories I have read to her countless times. This book was brand new, and she had never seen it. It was one of those early readers that 2nd/3rd graders read. I told her she could, thinking she was going to just tell me a story based on the pictures. Instead, she read the entire page only missing a few words. I have absolutely no idea how she learned to read. Many of the words on the page were ones that she has never encountered before.

Should I be worried about this? Is this something I need to discuss with our doctor? If she is gifted, should she start school early? I have absolutely no idea how to handle this.

A: Your daughter's development is definitely remarkable especially in reading. It appears that she is learning very quickly as long as she is exposed to learning materials. Based on the other developmental milestones that you mentioned, it is very possible that she could be a gifted child. However, check if she is merely reading without comprehending or she understands what she is reading. If she is able to comprehend most of what she is reading, then it certainly shows advanced development.

If she is very advanced in her development, there is nothing to worry about; just that you may need to put in a lot more effort at this stage. There are a lot of activities that can help her develop further cognitively, socially and physically. Most of the activities are similar to the ones any child would indulge in. The main difference is that she would learn the activity at a much faster pace and outgrow it very quickly. Just make sure of this whenever you expose her to any activity – the activities must be varied, stimulating, accelerated and above all, meaningful to her.

For a young gifted child, the best thing to do is to be able to explore his/her surrounding that feeds the needs for that extra stimulation. Therefore, providing her with educational materials that challenges and stimulate her thinking would be a great start. Monitor and observe her strengths and use activities that are interesting to her to motivate her 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 her dislikes. 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 her own exploring the learning materials you have provided. For example, even if she is not able to complete a puzzle, get her to keep trying instead of running to her 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.

You could also introduce her to early social skills by having play dates, playground time (as you have been doing), etc. If she enjoys older companion, allow that. At the same time, let her enjoy her peers as well. If she is very advanced, she may need to skip grades but that would have to be determined by the school. She would need to be able to adjust well in a class with older children. I suggest you think about this after a year or more of formal schooling to help her adjust. At this stage it is too early to plan too much, so take a step at a time.

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. You could speak to your doctor to gauge her development and plan ahead. Most importantly, regardless if she is gifted or not, she is a precious give and over and above everything else she would need a lot of love to help her develop further. Here's wishing you the very in your parenting journey. Good luck!


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