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Nurturing an Advanced Pre-schooler

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D


Q: Hello I have a 4 1/2 year old daughter who started preschool this year. She does very well and her teacher even told us during her 1st conference that she scored high on two/three test areas after only being in school for 4 weeks. These areas were rhyming and alliteration. She scored average on picture naming. I have noticed from a young age that she was not like other children her age. She could say her ABC's by 15 months and count to 20 by 18 months. She could recognize all shapes and colors by age 2.

She has a very high empathetic emotion. She even shows emotion toward stuffed animals and things. She can relate to peoples feelings and often over reacts to the situation that it seems other children would just blow off.

I have also noticed that she has more of an advanced language compared to other children her age often speaking complete sentences. I also say that she has some type of obsessive compulsive traits for example....whenever she has her stuffed animals out (her babies) all of their heads have to be facing the same direction....also pictures in her room have to be facing her directly not facing a different direction. Her socks have to be placed on perfectly or it has to be done multiple times even if just slightly crooked. She has a strict bedtime routine and will have a complete "meltdown" if it is altered.

I do not notice an increased ability to recognize letters or numbers. She often pretends to read a story after it has been read to her and can mostly follow the trail of events but I do not notice a increased ability to work with words or numbers, other than being able to count to 20 by age 18mths.

She has a memory that can be described as almost scary....my husband even says she is a "savant". She remembers everything.......or so it seams. She would not be what I call a leader but can make friends easily and is liked by all adults and teachers. She can show high levels of energy at times but is very good at toning it down when need-be. Her teacher even said its like she has an on/off switch for it.

A: There is no concern specifically here so I am assuming you are looking out for ways to help your daughter with the description that you had given. As a rule of thumb, gifted children would demonstrate development that is at least 30% more advanced than their peers. At pre-school level, it is still hard to determine giftedness, but parents can tell if their child has a potential for giftedness. 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 parents who are well aware of giftedness and some enthusiastic ones 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 it does not, the child would lose interest in learning and may become disillusioned and probably disruptive. On the other hand, a bright child would do well in most learning environment 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.

Your daughter appears to show above average qualities especially on the heightened emotions, sensitivity and perfectionism attitude. At this point, though, I would suggest that instead of labelling her, give her the best that you can in terms of her learning exposure. The activities suggested for young gifted children are suitable for most children as well. Make sure that there are a variety of activities and enough learning exposure for meaningful learning. Try looking for other indicators such as large vocabulary, reading ability, varied interests and an exceptional ability in a particular subject. You have not mentioned much about her reading ability – perhaps you may want to expose her to this as gifted children find a lot of their curiosity fulfilled when they can read. This is not to say that those who read late are not gifted; but one of the distinct indicators of above average ability in kids is their reading (and comprehending) ability.

A good start in nurturing her potential would be to encourage her to follow her interests, which you are probably doing already. In case you find that she 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 gifted children, so it is always important to vary the same activity. This involves creativity on your side. You must also know when to stop - a good cue is to observe when she starts to lose interest (irritable, distracted). Then, drop the activity and allow her some free playtime. Make sure she is stimulated most of the time. Exposure is the key here. Look for learning materials that appear interesting and challenging to her. Give her projects to accomplish, e.g., if she has started to read and has read a book, get her to review it, say, what she thought about the story and how she would change or improve it. Have a lot of outdoor activities; introduce her to the world of insects, plants, etc. Children usually get fascinated with such things so you can also get her to relate her experiences to her friends - since she is well-liked by her peers.

Even as pre-schoolers, one trait of gifted children is their fascination to organise people and things into complex frameworks, and get quite upset when others may not follow their rules or are unable to understand their schema. As they grow up, they continue to search intensely for the “rules of life” and for consistency. It has been found that in most cases, their intellectualising, sense of urgency, perfectionism, idealism, and intolerance for mistakes may be misunderstood to be signs of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. Having said that, there is a possibility to be gifted with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I would think that most of this behaviour would outgrow with time or lessen. It becomes a problem when it interferes with one's life so if she is unable to function because of her behaviour, then there may be a cause for concern. In any case, this is not a diagnosis - if you want to be perfectly sure, do consult a psychologist who may run some tests.

Hope the above discussion has been helpful and have a great learning journey with your daughter. Keep monitoring her progress and encourage her to learn positively. All the best!


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