Parents Ask: How Can I Tell if my Child is Gifted?

When parents wonder whether their child is gifted, chances are that the child is doing things which seem remarkably precocious compared to children of the same age and indeed very well may be gifted. Here’s what parents should do.

goldstar Make sure your priorities reflect your values.
There is something much more important than a child’s giftedness to keep in mind: your child is a child, and the most important thing is to help your child master the developmental tasks he or she faces in order to become well-rounded and socially connected in appropriate ways. A child’s intellectual giftedness should not become a dominating priority.

When children speak in whole sentences while other children are using only words or phrases, show unusual awareness of their environment or ask thoughtful questions, parents sometimes become so impressed that they center their parenting on developing their child’s intellect instead of nurturing their child’s emotional and social growth.

Sometimes loving parents become so caught up in trying to satisfy a child’s need for intellectual stimulation that they make it less likely their child will develop as a well-rounded person. Rather than focusing on their child’s intelligence, parents of bright children need to stress play, responsibility, perseverance, imagination, affection and having fun with others.

goldstar Be careful when comparing your child with other children.
You can form some impressions by observing your child in playgroups or preschool and by talking to other parents. But keep in mind that, during their first 8 years, children reach developmental stages at very different paces and often change quite dramatically within a relatively short period of time. These are fluid years, and parents must be cautious about forming any hard and fast conclusions from a few impressions.

For instance, although some gifted children are very early readers, many others learn to read as first graders, when their peers do. Children often have unusual talents in some areas, but not in others.

goldstar Consider your child’s overall characteristics, not just one.
Because there is no single criteria of giftedness, parents need to be on the lookout for a variety of traits which typify gifted children.

There are a number of lists of age-specific behaviors which parents can get from their child’s pediatrician or access through the Gifted Resource Council Web site. Be wary of lists which concentrate exclusively on a child’s intellectual development. While lists like these can help identify giftedness, they tend to focus parents’ concerns too narrowly on intellect at the expense of the whole child.

A broader approach offers the advantage of helping parents consider the entire range of a child’s behavior and personality, including traits which result from the child’s intellectual prowess. It’s important, for instance, to realize that a child who learns very rapidly may tend to be more emotionally intense, competitive and perfectionistic than is healthy. Twenty years of experience has shown GRC that gifted children tend to be:

* abstract thinkers
* challenged by difficult tasks
* concerned about world issues
* competitive
* creative
* different from their peers
* emotionally intense
* humorous
* leaders
* logical
* perfectionistic
* rapid learners

These traits express themselves in age-appropriate ways, are not characteristic of every child, and are not present to the same degree in all gifted children.

goldstar Let Gifted Resource Council’s programs help you evaluate your child.
One practical thing parents can do is to enroll their child in GRC’s Learning Labs. These Saturday enrichment classes are open to children as young as age three, and no testing is required. If a child enjoys the stimulating curriculum and seems to fit in with other very talented children, chances are that the child may be gifted. In addition, participating in Learning Labs offers a child opportunities to experience intellectual stimulation and to interact socially with other bright children.

goldstar Consider testing.
Many parents turn to testing to confirm their own observations, uncover areas of weakness which might be masked by a child’s general intellectual prowess, or inform a decision about early enrollment to kindergarten.

Testing is generally not useful until a child is at least four years old. Parents should be aware that testing can be unreliable for preschoolers because many factors-like shyness, fear of a particular tester, or just having a bad day-can cause a preschool child to score lower than his or her true abilities.

Testing is also used to screen children into, or exclude them from, gifted programs run by public schools. Generally these programs are open to children with an IQ of 130 or above, or about 2% of the population.

If your child’s school does not have a gifted program, or if your child attends a competitive independent school, IQ testing may not be necessary.

goldstar Remember your priorities.
Being a parent of a gifted child means nurturing a well-rounded, emotionally healthy, socially adept child who can utilize the talents and intellectual gifts he or she possesses.

Dennis O’Brien is a licensed clinical social worker, experienced educator and therapist. In addition to writing educational materials used by the Washington University School of Medicine Dept. of Psychiatry and weekly columns on parenting for the Suburban Journals, he writes monthly columns for St. Louis Moms and Dads, and regular columns for CHARACTERplus, Family Connection (Mo. Dept of Mental Health) and Gifted Association of Missouri. O’Brien’s April 6 column, “Prevent teen suicide by addressing it,” won the 2010 Missouri Institute of Mental Health award for outstanding reporting on suicide.

For more information regarding Gifted Resource Council, please call the GRC office at 314.962.5920 or email us at