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Highly Advanced Toddler

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: Lately I've been reading many articles on gifted children as my toddler seems to be advanced for her age. She's 16 months old and it's hard not to treat her like a 3-4 year old. I have not been able to find the exact answers I've been looking for so I am trying here.

Age: 16 months, female

My daughter can identify all her body parts and has been doing so since 11 months. She loves to play with puzzles and can accurately put many different shapes in to the coordinating holes and has been doing this for a few months. She identifies countless objects: ex "Imogen where's the cat? Where's your big red ball? Where's your bear/bunny/doll?" Etc etc. She identifies shapes and colours - "Imogen where are the stars? Where's the pink ball?". She knows that "two" comes after "one" etc. She can figure out all forms of "baby proofing" - unlocks gates etc (let me tell you how fun that is).

She's been able to unlatch doors since 12 months (she's tall for her age). She's on the whole very aware of her surroundings and knows what she wants. If I ask her a question she'll immediately let me know what she wants. If a ask her to do something she immediately complies "Imogen please sit down, could you put that in the trash for mummy?, Imogen please put those toys back in the basket". She also taught herself how to thread shoelaces. She throws balls overhand and far and has been able to catch for a while (she loves playing catch). She knows how to lock her high chair latches and car seat latches. She loves to wash herself in the bath (face arms hands etc). She loves to draw (I am an accomplished artist myself) - she has automatically held a pencil correctly from 11 months onward and is now drawing circles.

She has been very talkative and very physically strong since day one. She has also been constantly on the move and very curious from day one too. She hates to sleep and has never slept through the night (someone once told me that can indicate intelligence so I threw that in there).

Overall it just seems as though my daughter picks up on new concepts and ideas extremely quickly. She surprises me on a daily basis with what she understands. I don't expect to get answers to all the questions I ask her but I always seem to anyway.

I know that every parent feels as though their child is special and gifted. I would believe this about my daughter no matter what. But sometimes I feel more concerned about her intelligence (e.g.: "is she really supposed to know how to do that at 16 months??").

I'm sorry if this was more of a very long, somewhat hard to follow rant (I'm sleep deprived).

Any light you could shed on my daughter's development would be greatly appreciated.

A: From the description given, your little one seems to be highly advanced. Her developmental milestones at 16 months are way ahead her peers and so is her cognitive development indicating giftedness. Her fine motor skills are also highly developed for a child her age. She surely needs some specialised attention to help her develop her needs further and maximise her potential.

Very young children like her are more often than not placed at risk especially in the early years of school through misidentification, inappropriate grade level placement and of course an inadequate curriculum. Soon she may realise that she may be different from her peer - early awareness and if not cared for adequately, she may attempt to conceal her ability for peer acceptance; which is a common phenomenon amongst gifted children with needs that are not catered for.

It will be hard work for you but as the parent, you would need to start doing a lot of reading and sourcing for what is best for her as her development is going to advance further. The best thing for a young gifted child to do is to be able to explore 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 interest her to motivate her further. At this age, she should be provided with a variety of materials to determine what really interests her and allow her to explore and discover. At the same time, also monitor her dislikes. Say, if you find that she dislikes “number” 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 her 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 looking out for parents to help solve the problem. This may somewhat stagnate the development of their cognitive abilities.

She appears to have good coordination skills with developed gross motor skills. This could help her in sporting activities. Introduce her to any sports that she appears to be interested in. It would be good to include a team sport for her to develop her social skills. Any physical activity would help her further develop her gross motor skills. Dancing can also be included as an interesting and relaxing physical activity. Physical activities would tire her out and help her mind shut down and rest at night, which leads to sleep better/longer (and perhaps quicker!).

At the same time, introduce her to the world of books to quench her thirst for knowledge. It will surely help stimulate and challenge her further. 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 a wonderful parenting journey. Good luck!


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