Developmentally Above Average Child
By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D
Q: I suspect our 18 month old has shown
signs of giftedness...at the very least he is precocious. If he is
gifted, I want to be able to support and encourage him as best as
possible to ensure he continues developing with his potential.
My first question- would these accomplishments be considered gifted or
merely precocious? I've found very little measurement tools...mostly
just characteristics. If he his gifted, are there resources available
for parents who are not as developmentally inclined but want what is
best for their brainy babe? :)
Here are some examples of his feats.
He said "Momma" at 9 weeks old (after several distinct attempts)
enough control of his body to kick his legs in the water at less than
two months old to create splashes
He had six words, including "kitty" by
6 month old
He said "go away!" when frustrated at 10 months old
shockingly effective problem solving skills (pulling the blanket he was
laying on for tummy time towards him to get the toy at the other end at
4 months old, outsmarting our child safety locks on our kitchen cabinets
at 11 months old)
Demonstrated concern and care at 9 months old by
diving over to and hugging parent when coughing
instructions around 11 months
Mastered most colors by 13-14 months
Mastered animals and their sounds by 14 months
Counting to three at 14
months, five by 15 months
Demonstrated understanding that numbers are
quantities/counting two and three objects at 15 months
(possibly hundreds) of words by 15 months
Makes two and three word
sentences regularly by 13 months (several prior to that)
Helps clean up
toys (and sings "clean-up clean-up!")
Requests what he wants/needs
verbally (most of the time) at 16-17 months (foods, up/down/open)- some
as early as 14 months
Uses please, thank you and excuse me 17-18 months
Mastered greetings and goodbyes in Spanish at 15 months
counting to three in Spanish at 17 months
Fully recites alphabet at 17
Walks on tip toes at 17 months
My other question has to do with his sensitivity/emotion regulation. He
becomes extremely frustrated if there is a task he cannot do by
himself...for instance, he wants to be able to turn the door knob by
himself but he cannot reach. He screams in anger and cries out in
frustration. I show him empathy and offer to help, but it only seems to
make him more upset. I know he desperately just wants to be independent,
but he still has lots of growing to do. How can I support and encourage
him when all he wants is to do it correctly and independently the first
Thank you for your time!
Before moving further, I'd like you to know that at an early stage, we
try not to label a child. There aren't many tools at this stage to
determine advanced abilities apart from observation by parents or a
professional and checklists. No doubt, parents are usually the best
people to gauge if their child may be gifted but usually an IQ test when
the child is a lot older (6-7 years onwards is preferred for more
stability in scores) would confirm it. Regardless of whether he may be
gifted or not, you should always provide him with challenging learning.
From your description, your son does show some distinct characteristics
of children who are developing at a faster pace. There is no doubt that
above average children tend to gain skills faster and sometimes with
more ease than the average child with normal development. And quite
naturally, the advanced development can and does show up in early life,
making acquisition of other skills and abilities also at a faster pace.
Today, it is much harder to determine giftedness since many children are
exposed to various activities by parents; these activities actually make
them learn faster regardless of ability. All children are like sponges
and absorb learning quite rapidly, and enthusiastic parents certainly
help in their development. For example, a gifted toddler may learn to
read at three, and so will a bright toddler. The earlier one reads, the
faster learning will take place. However, a gifted child would need much
more stimulation and any learning activity needs to match their
intellectual capabilities. If s/he does not receive the much needed
stimulation, the child would lose interest in learning and may become
disillusioned and probably disruptive. On the other hand, a bright child
would does well in most learning environments and would usually be
toppers. They adapt to learning quite easily and are viewed as “good,
obedient children”. Naturally, a bright child is easier to nurture
compared to a gifted child.
A good start in nurturing his potential would be to encourage him to
follow him interests at this point. In case you find that he is
fascinated with something, do more of it and gradually increase its
complexity. Having said that, more work of the same kind may sometimes
bore above average children, so it is always important to try to have
variations of the same activity. This involves creativity on your side.
You must also know when to stop - a good cue is to observe when he
starts to lose interest (irritable, distracted). If this happens, drop
the activity and allow him some free playtime (with minimal guidance as
long as it is safe).. Pretend play is crucial and this is when they
develop their brain and unleash their creativity.
He appears to have a perfectionist nature as well which affects his
sensitivities. It would be good for him to learn and accept that he may
not be able to do it right every time. Perhaps you could crawl and try
to turn the knob and pretend to fail. He needs to learn that it is
perfectly fine for that to happen and even adults can fail. Do not do it
for him – it will frustrate him further. Instead, show him a few
solutions (that fails) and finally help him identify what works. This is
applicable in anything he does. It would help him learn to control his
emotions seeing others cant do it as well. You would need to show him
how to model “appropriate” behaviours.
Ensure that he remains challenged all the time so as not to have any
time to be idle which may cause irritation due to lack of stimulation
and subsequent manifestation in disruptive behaviour. The following are
a few tips that I have proposed on this site - some that you can use at
this stage and some at a later stage to encourage his learning: For
instance, help him determine differences; compare and contrast
• For early exposure to math, you can use measurement words often:
little, more, many, half, quarter, etc.
• Not sure if he is showing much interest in books (you did not
indicate), but you may want to introduce him to the world of books at
this stage itself.
• You can also watch educational programs with him and ask him the
“whys” and “whats” - and then explain.
• Look for similarities and differences and have him group things that
• Talk to him, tell him stories, create a scenario and ask him about
what could happen in certain situations.
Encourage language learning at this stage. He will pick it up very fast.
After some time, you may also want to look out for play schools, which
may be a great environment for him to also develop his initial social
skills. For a better indication of his developmental milestone, please
refer to the guide in the table of 'Developmental Milestones of a Gifted
Toddler'. The milestones have been gathered over many years of research
on giftedness. However, please note that these figures are just
guidelines and research could be dated by now. There are other factors
that may influence development such as general health, specific sensory
disabilities, motivation, etc.
Hope the tips are helpful and have a great learning journey with your
little one. For now, do not worry if he is gifted or precocious or
bright – just enjoy him. Keep monitoring his progress and encourage him
to learn positively. Wishing you all the best!.