What Are the Characteristics of a Gifted Child?

Jennifer-Early Reader and Perfect Child

Jennifer surprised her mother when, at the age of three, she began reading signs as they traveled down the street. Stop signs, store signs, bill boards-they were all of special interest to Jennifer. Jennifer’s interest in reading continued and, with very little help from her parents, she entered kindergarten reading at the second grade level. She was very mature and often acted as a mediator when disputes arose in the classroom. Jennifer occupied herself in constructive ways and was anxious to please everyone. When she finished her schoolwork (which she normally did much faster than anyone else in class), she would read, draw, straighten things in the room, or work on a project of her own. Jennifer seemed to be the “perfect child.”

Ramon-Math Whiz

Ramon was not very interested in reading, but loved math. By the middle of first grade, he taught himself all the math facts-addition, subtraction, multiplication and division-using a hand held computer game. In second grade, he was fascinated with the statistics in the Guinness Book of World Records and in the World Almanac. Because his math ability was advanced, Ramon was bored in school. Sometimes he got in trouble for not paying attention, for squirming in his seat, or for getting up and walking around. Ramon had no patience with classmates who did not share his interests and sometimes he made rude or inappropriate remarks to the other children and to adults such as “That is a stupid idea!” or “That’s baby stuff!”

Mike and Tammy-Unusual Ways of Looking at Things

In his first grade class, Mr. Snyder had two students, Mike and Tammy, who constantly said or did things that were totally unexpected. One day, Mr. Snyder asked the class how a submarine and a fish were different. After a moment, Mike replied, “A submarine has lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise, but a fish only has tartar sauce.” Another time, Mr. Snyder asked the children to draw a picture of the classroom. During the work time, he found Tammy lying on the floor under her desk. When questioned why, she replied, “I’m drawing the room the way an ant would see it if he were looking up.”

Mike and Tammy gravitated to one another because of their shared way of looking at the world and their unique sense of humor. At the same time, they each had a very serious side. They were very concerned over issues of justice. If they did not feel they were being treated fairly, they would complain bitterly. They were also very concerned about homeless families. One day, while driving down the street with his parents, Mike saw a family on a street corner holding a sign that said “Homeless Family-Will Work For Food.” He could not understand why his parents would not stop and take this family home with them.

Defining Giftedness

When we say that children are gifted, we make a sweeping generalization. All “gifted children” do not have the same characteristics. In fact, this is a very intellectually diverse group. Gifted children may or may not be early readers, have good social skills, or be self-motivated. They may or may not be math whizzes, have a passion area they want to study, or be the best students. We can say, however, that gifted children do not fit the norm. They are developmentally advanced in one or more areas, though these areas are not necessarily in the traditional academic realm. Gifted children often process information differently and are likely to be intense in their feelings, their behavior, and their views. If the academic needs of gifted children are not met, they may become bored at school. They are often emotionally sensitive, allowing their own feelings to be hurt easily. They may have long attention spans, but this often manifests itself in areas of their own choosing rather than areas that are chosen by teachers or adults.

Advice for the Parent

If you have a high-ability child, take the time to educate yourself on the subject of giftedness. Read, join a local or state parent advocacy group, and attend conferences on the gifted.

At home, choices for children should be offered within a framework of structure designed by parents. Bright children can very often be very manipulative, but it is not mentally healthy for them to be allowed the free reign they may think they want. Clear lines need to be established so that there is a balance offering choices and decision making, yet still having a healthy respect for authority.

Offering exposure to enriched and diverse experiences provides children with an excellent foundation. If your child shows a strong interest in any one area, do everything possible to support that interest. Provide additional experiences, lessons, and time for your child to spend with children who have similar interests. Do, however, make certain that the interest is truly coming from the child and not from your own interests or desires for the child. Allow learning to be a joy rather than an obligation.

Bright children may have an acute sense of curiosity but lack the experience and judgment to anticipate the outcomes. Parents need to “get inside the heads” of their gifted children to foresee all the possible consequences of their actions and experiments. Highly creative children can actually cause danger to themselves and others with their creativity.

Very bright children often feel different from those around them. Feeling out-of-sync is not a positive feeling. Probably the most important job of parents is to offer their children a secure foundation of love and understanding. Show respect for one another, not only with your family structure, but with all people. Celebrate one another’s strengths and understand one another’s weaknesses.

Keep in mind your child’s chronological age and allow him to be a child despite his sophisticated talk, abilities, and concerns. Provide opportunities for whole-person development-social, physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. Don’t over-emphasize the intellectual.

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