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Nurturing a Potentially Gifted Toddler

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D


Q: My wife and I have a 22 month old daughter (our first). We think she is maybe a little brighter than normal but everyone we meet states that they are amazed at the things she does and says. Is she considered gifted? Should we have her tested? Here are a few things I have observed about her:

  1. She knows all of her colors and can point to multi-colored pictures and point out specific colors.

  2. She knows her alphabet- We have magnetic letters totally in random order on our bedroom door, we can ask her to bring a letter i.e. "where is the B". She will look at all the letters, bring us the correct one and say, "This is a B, the B says buh" She knows all of her letters and the phonetic sounds that they make (she rarely if ever makes the wrong phonetic sound). She frequently points out specific letters when she sees them in magazines, books on TV etc. and identifies them. She has recently begun saying i.e. "D, D says Duh, Duh Duh, Dada" and "B, B says Buh, Buh buh, Bailey (her name) "K for Kevin (her uncle) etc.

  3. She sings complete songs, not just baby songs but songs that my wife and I listen to.

  4. She can identify 20-30 different musical instruments by sight. She loves to point them out, violin, bugle, flute, trumpet, recorder, clarinet etc. She can also identify some of them by sound. I recently was riding in the car with her and she repeatedly said "piano" I took me a while to realize that there was a piano playing in the song on the radio. She also loves to play the piano at my parents house. She will not just bang on the piano to make noise, but will carefully play different notes and sometimes repeat 3-5 specific notes in order over and over.

  5. She is making long sentences correctly. Her speech is amazingly clear and is easy to understand even by strangers. Example- I carried her outside the other day and out of the blue she said, " I hear the birds but I can't see them, where are they?" Keep in mind she is only 22 months old.

  6. She can identify many shapes and loves to color. She will sit for an hour drawing quietly by herself. If I ask her to draw a triangle she will make two straight sides but seems to have difficulty with the third. Ask her to draw a circle and she will start making circular drawings on the page.

  7. Her memory is excellent, My wife checked out a children’s book for her at the library and read it to her once. She closed the book and said "no". Over a week later, she asked my wife to read the "no, no Jack, bring it back" book. That was a line in the book that she had heard only once over a week earlier. She will remember peoples names that she has met just one or two times. She said " Hi Paul" to an amusement park ride operator that she had introduced herself to three weeks earlier. (She loves to walk up to people, stick out her hand like she wants to shake their hand and say, "hello, it's nice to meet you." )

  8. She has a fascination with books and will frequently climb into a chair with a book and slowly turn the pages one at a time and stare at them. If it is a book that we read frequently she will say many of the correct lines from that particular page. She will sit for over an hour doing this.

  9. She loves numbers and she can count to 20 in order, 30 with help and has recently been holding up fingers as she counts. She will count to 5 on her hand then count backwards from 5 to 1.

  10. She will repeat ANYTHING that we say if we ask her to. I can count to ten in German or Spanish and she will repeat each number as I say them. I try to trip her up with long words such as hippopotamus but she will repeat the word until she gets it right.

  11. She knows dozens and dozens of different animals by sight and can make the correct sound that each animal makes.

I am sorry this is so long, there are just so many things she does that impress us. Physically she is very small for her age, she is 18 pounds at 22 months. She was 4 lbs. 7 oz. 19 inches long at birth and was 3 pounds 7 oz. when we brought her home from the hospital (She had dropped to 3 lbs. 1 oz.) She eats very little and sleeps even less. Although even with very little sleep she never acts "grumpy" in the mornings.

These are just a few things I can think of. Is she normal? Should we have her tested? Is there even a test for a child under 2 years old? What do we do if she is gifted? I don't want to push her and make her the oddball at school when she gets there.

A: Your girl does show distinct characteristics of early giftedness and has definitely reached milestones far ahead of her peers. For now it really is not important to determine if she were gifted or not; what is important is that she shows very high potential and would need to be further guided to determine and gradually develop her gifts to the maximum.

She must be around two-plus now and probably has reached greater developmental heights. My advice is to continue nurturing her as best as you can. For this, you need to be aware of her needs as she grows which may be different from her age group. She will surely develop faster and each of her ability would need attention and nurturance.

It is very important to carefully observe her likes and dislikes. If you find that she enjoys books very much, she should be exposed to them. Bear in mind that for advanced children, mere exposure may burn them out quite quickly. They need guidance and lots of variety in their interest areas. Apart from providing her with books, look for different activities that involves reading in a variety of environment. For example, take her to the library, read the newspaper with her (by showing headlines, pictures or ads), reading her books, reading related games, etc.

You may do the same with her other interests. Variety is the key here as gifted children tend to absorb too quickly and eventually may get bored with the same activity, even if they had once enjoyed it very much. If you find that she may not display abilities (or shows difficulties) in a certain area or perhaps dislikes certain subject matter especially if it is important (e.g. numbers, writing, drawing, etc) you may want to slow down a little there and look for ways to excite her using various approaches and activities to instil interest.

It is not going to b an easy task for parents and a lot of energy and patience is required. Try reading up as much as you can on gifted toddlers (there is a lot of information from internet resources), hook up with parents of other highly able children (join gifted association in your area), subscribe to gifted newsletters to keep track of the latest on giftedness, etc.

If you feel that testing her would help your further improve on her strengths and work on her weak areas, there are various tests that can be performed by a qualified educational/child psychologist to determine her level of abilities. For her age, there are individualized tests that can be conducted but many factors may influence the results. Tests are more reliable and objective when children are a little older, from 4 years onwards.

On her physical development, it would be a good idea to consult a pediatrician for advice based on normal physical development. Here’s wishing you all the best in your journey of parenting a potentially gifted child.


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