I have written a few posts about identifying giftedness in very young children ( Your Bossy Baby or Toddler May Be Gifted. Really. Here Are The Signs You Are Missing! and How To Spot A Gifted Child In Your Preschool Class (Or Your Living Room!) ) but I want to give some specific attention to communicating with a young gifted child.
Communicating may seem to be the least of your worries when raising or teaching these kids! Many, but not all, gifted children start speaking early. And they waste no time once they learn to speak. Gifted toddlers are known to be chatty, specific, and often demanding in their insistence that you listen to them. Getting them to listen to you is usually the problem.
Why? Not because giftedness confers entitlement or because they are spoiled. The gifted brain is wired for details and connections like a heat-seeking missile. It likes novelty and intensity over routines. Gifted kids cannot stop themselves from seeing relationships between objects, events or ideas. They often want to change the rules of a game and strongly value their own viewpoint. They learn one concept and will immediately have seven more questions about that topic. And they want all their answers responded to. Right now. You might be inclined to think you have a child with ADHD Is Your Kid With ADHD Also Gifted, or is Your Team Missing Their Giftedness? but it is likely that you simply haven’t been told about the way the gifted mind works normally. I read a piece that said that even psychologists are falling victim to seeing “atypical” as “abnormal”. That has got to stop!
You will probably never be able to use “Because I said so” and get away with it when speaking with a gifted child. Why? Your response provides no details, no information for the gifted mind to chew on. And they have lots and lots of ideas about how to approach and complete just about everything. Doing it your way may take some convincing!
Here are a few suggestions that make communicating with a gifted child more successful and even enjoyable:
- When making a request or giving a direction, be clear that it is one or the other. Gifted children will take you at your literal word when you say “Could you clean up your space now?” and respond that they could, but they don’t want to. Ask them to clean up, or offer them the choice to do it now or in 2 minutes.
- If you do make a request, provide a simple rationale but use the “big words” they love. “Please clean up so that we have enough space and less visual distractions to do _______on the table” is logical and saves the time you would spend to repeatedly ask them if you said “Clean up now”. It also adds some vocabulary words they may not know. That can be like catnip to a gifted mind!
- Don’t be offended if you get a quick retort that things could be done a different way. Gifted children aren’t necessarily being rude or sassy. They are stating what is obvious to them: there are more ways to accomplish this task than the one you laid out.
- Explain your reasoning when you get a rebuke, and make sure it makes sense. Gifted kids dislike illogical or rigid thinking. They may comply with your directions because of a reward or peer pressure, but they will not see you as an authority if your reasoning doesn’t demonstrate clear and rational thought. The exception to this rule is when your rationale is creative and expansive. Some, but not all, gifted kids will go along with this type of thinking because it suggests more excitement could occur by following you there.
- Be prepared to be exhausted. Gifted children’s minds work overtime, and you may be caught up in complex stories or conversations about anything and everything. These kids can go on forever, it seems, ferreting out more information from you and coming up with multiple lines of thought. Expect that you will be asked to give them this kind of attention. It can be fun, not exhausting, if you set limits for time and attention. If you have to move on, suggest that you can take this conversation back up later. They probably will remind you of this promise later on!
- Suggest that they use their creative powers to come up with new ways to play with old toys or combine two toys or games with other children. Gifted children do not always need adult interaction, even though they often seek adults for play. They will often say that their peers cannot or do not want to take play in a direction that they find fun or exciting. By giving them a creative start and letting them explore, they may find ways to get peers involved as more than assistants or observers.