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Raising a Gifted Toddler

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I have a 2 1/2 year old son that I've always suspected was a little bit different than most other children his age and raising him has always been pretty challenging. He seems to need very little sleep, has bounds of energy, is a great talker and will not stop exploring and asking questions. It's adorable, but exhausting! He also has a really hard time getting along with other children his age and can be either very introverted or very aggressive. This last trait has been causing a lot of anxiety for me.

He has also been very interested in books and puzzles from a very early age. In fact, he really isn't in to many toys other than books and jig saw puzzles. I must read 20 or more books a day and he probably does an equal number of puzzles, on his own. He is now completing 60 piece jig saw puzzles on his own and memorizing his books. I am not sure if this is normal or not, since he is my first child, but I am wondering if he may be a bit gifted. And if my struggles with his endless curiosity, wandering off and inability to socialize with other toddlers (save for one or 2 really good friends) is all related.

Mostly though, I am wondering how important it is that we figure out whether or not he is gifted at this age? Part of me feels like we should just sit back and let him be a toddler without worrying about giftedness yet the other part of me wonders if I am doing a good enough job keeping him stimulated and if I need to learn more about raising a gifted child.

Something just seems very different with him compared to my friends' toddlers and as he gets older it's becoming pretty obvious that he seems quite a bit advanced. I've read the checklists for gifted toddlers and he's definitely hitting most, though not all, of the marks. I am just not sure where to go from here or if I even need to worry about it yet. Should I bring my suspicions up to his doctor?

A: There is no doubt that parents who are familiar of the concept of giftedness are the best people to judge if their child may be more advanced than others, especially with the amount of time spent with a young child. If you have been reading about giftedness and feel that your little one has most of the qualities listed in the checklist, you are probably right! I understand your concerns at this stage especially with all the readings on giftedness emphasizing early recognition so that appropriate materials can be given to cater for their learning needs before they are admitted to more formal learning programs.

For now, perhaps the checklists are good enough indication of your son's advanced abilities. The most important thing for a gifted child is identification which means identification of their needs. This is crucial to enable parents to adapt or modify parenting styles and the educational environment in order for each child to grow. A gifted child would have significantly different needs, emotional, social, and intellectual, as a result of having a significantly higher IQ. From birth, gifted children are developmentally more advanced than their peers, making them “out of sync” with the rest. Simple teaching may be too stressful for minds that thrive for complexity and challenge. Therefore, you need to gauge your son's level and keep gradually increasing the complexity of any activity given. An advocate of giftedness, Stephanie Tolan, likens this quite interestingly to feeding an elephant grass, one blade at a time. Not only will the elephant die of malnutrition before you can get sufficient food into him, he is unlikely to even realize that you are trying to feed him at all. That single blade of grass is simply too small to notice. This is very similar to the needs of a gifted child.

I doubt that your son has a socializing issue since he does socialize with a couple of other toddlers. Kids at this age are getting more attuned to their surroundings and may have some individuated characteristics. As long as you are aware that he is developmentally more advanced that the other kids, keep stimulating him and not restricting his activities to age appropriate ones – it should be more ability appropriate. Parenting a gifted child is not an easy; in fact it is more intense and isolating compared to parenting the non gifted child. The child's uneven development may cause them to exhibit a wide range of age behaviors at the same time, making them demanding to parent, which is probably what you may be going through. Furthermore, to fit in becomes hard when so much of your environment depends on chronological age, a measure which is probably the least relevant part of a gifted child's development.

If you feel that he may be extremely advanced and need some help, perhaps then you may want to see a child psychologist who may be able to test his intelligence. This may enable you to provide him with the appropriate educational program for his age. However, its best to allow a child to grow as he is now as long as you are aware of his gifts and providing him with the right materials till a few years later when testing can be done. Have a lot of free play activities and guide him further with his interest in books.

You may want to read the recommended book below:

Alvino, J. (1989). Parent's guide to raising a gifted toddler: Recognizing and developing the potential of your child from birth to five years. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Good luck!


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