Support For A Highly Gifted Child
By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D
My daughter is currently 4 years old. Since birth, she has
been an extremely intense child. She is my first born.
During her first year of life, starting at age eight weeks,
she would not go to any other caregiver (including her
father) except for me. She would cry inconsolably from the
time I handed her over until I took over again. It could be
five minutes or it could be a full eight hour work day. We
went through four babysitters during that time, as I was
working part-time. She never stopped crying for anyone and
didn't bond with her father until age 1.
By age one, she had a vocabulary of about 300 words, could
sing her ABCs, and could count. By age 18 months, she knew
all of the basic colors, could count to 30, and knew her
shapes. By age 2, she was talking in grammatically correct
compound sentences, using past tense correctly, and was
often complimented for how "clearly" she spoke. She was a
generally happy baby during that time and would spend up to
two hours at a time looking through books of any kind on her
However, at age 2.5, her behavior became almost
unmanageable. She was often angry, throwing tantrums that
would last anywhere from 5 minutes to four hours. She would
scream, kick, yell, cry, and would be inconsolable. We were
one phone call away from getting professional help at that
time, but we had some extended family step in and help for a
few weeks. We felt it better to continue to deal with it
ourselves. This went on for a year. In the meantime, we
noticed things that other parents weren't seeing, though...
she would cry because a song was just so beautiful or she
would remember the name of a hymn that she had heard at
church at Easter the year before and hadn't heard since or
she would get very sad if she saw someone with a cast or on
crutches and worry about them until she could go and check
on them herself (complete strangers in the grocery store!).
At age 3.5, her behavior began to improve and we felt we
finally saw a light at the end of the tunnel, though we
weren't quite there. However, at that time, I miscarried and
my daughter was devastated. She became obsessed with death
and heaven, to the point that she would ask my husband or me
about it somewhere in the ballpark of 75 to 100 times a day.
Her questions ranged from, "What is heaven like?" to "How do
we get there?" to "What happens to our bodies when we die?"
She then began to worry. Her questions turned into, "How did
the baby get to heaven if it's too little to walk?" Or, "How
will I get all of my things to heaven all by myself?" Or,
"Will I get to help take care of my baby sister when I get
to heaven?" She would cry and worry and obsess constantly -
almost as much about the lost "sister" as the concept of
heaven/death. She would sometimes go into a rage if she
couldn't get her questions answered. After a couple of
weeks, we turned to professional help.
The immediate assessment by the child psychologist is that
she is a gifted child who is thinking about things that are
beyond her emotional capacity. Our therapist gave us ways to
help our daughter deal with the loss she was feeling, as
well as facing her questions head on - lots of talk and
processing time, honest answers, books from the library,
etc. It helped tremendously! We also moved her immediately
to a preschool setting with older children (the therapist
thought she was also extremely bored/frustrated with her day
care setting) and enrolled her in a dance imagination class.
We also started reading chapter books (about the 6th grade
level) to her and have new puzzles and challenges for her.
Within three months we had a new child! She is finally happy
and seems to have a new sense of inner peace. She's reading
and writing, loves to tell fantastic, elaborate, animated
stories, has a passion for dance, and still doesn't miss a
single detail. Her preschool teacher believes she possibly
has a photographic memory. No fewer than every adult in her
life commented during that time about what a dramatic change
there had been in such a short time. It was astounding!
It seems that she is a gifted child, but I'm still not quite
sure what that means and what we should do about it. She is
certainly special, of course, but do we need to make a big
deal about it? We are sending her to private kindergarten
this fall and I have told the teachers the very watered down
version of her gifted assessment. Do I let them figure out
where she is or should I be advocating for her right off the
bat? Because I feel a little uncertain of exactly "how"
gifted she is, I don't really know what to tell her
teachers. Would you recommend testing? Is that helpful to
her teachers? If so, what kind of testing?
Thank you in advance for your help and support!
A: Thanks for the elaborate
details - gave me a very good description of your little
one. From what you have mentioned, she is indeed a highly
gifted child, milestones ahead of her peers. So you have a
very, very special child and she has benefited from
professional help - now what?
Firstly, you are certainly on the right track in observing,
monitoring and providing her with all that she needs to
flourish. She is not going to be fine in a regular program
and she certainly needs a program that caters for her level
of intelligence. She needs constant stimulation and you will
find that she would get bored quite easily with any routine
task. She also needs to find her activities meaningful -
there must be a reason to everything she does to feed her
curiosity and interest. You need to be very careful that she
does not get bored or feel mentally tired with too much
stimulation. Both extremes have consequences.
Parent of gifted children sometimes get overwhelmed and tend
to provide too much but these children can get overwhelmed
as well. Make sure the activities are varied. Keep talking
(pretty much adult talk, at the same time remember that this
is a child - too much emotional talk may not be good as they
may not be emotionally matured to handle certain things) and
more importantly, keep stimulating their minds with
questions. Try not to lie to her because they can be highly
sensitive and expect to be treated with respect.
Educational toys are fine but they would get bored quite
quickly and it can be an expensive affair. Get her to make
her own toys - gifted children work best when stimulated.
They love starting from scratch. Books are great so regular
visits to the library or book store is crucial. Whether she
can read or not, books are the best source of information to
feed her active imagination. Make sure she keeps having a
variety of activities. Give her some autonomy in making
decisions as well - e.g., ask her what she would like to do
for the day, guide her if she's not sure. Don't forget to
allow some physical activity for her on a daily basis that
would help her sleep better to rest her tired mind! Allow a
lot of free play but make sure you observe and monitor her
As for testing, she is at a good age to be tested so that
her teachers can see some evidence for a differentiated
educational program. The Wechsler Preschool and Primary
Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI) is suitable for her. Make sure
you get a reputed psychologist to test her in order to get a
good interpretation of the scores. That would help you plan
better for her educational needs.
There are many sites and books that you could read to help
guide you. In addition, do go through the previous advice on
this site. You have a rather tough job but take one thing at
a time and keep up the good work. Last but not least, always
remember that this is a special child and she may be
cognitively very able but she is still a young child after
all and more than anything else, she would need your love
and understanding. At some point, she would realise that she
may be a little different from her peers and this is when
she would need her family the most.
Here's wishing you the very best for a beautiful journey.