I can’t take it any longer. If I hear one more professional on YouTube say that the difficulties begin when your child enters school, I am gonna cry. Real tears. For those younger kids. And their parents.
CNN just ran a story in which a psychologist suggested not telling kids that they are “that special”. To help them feel more like other kids. Well, I can tell you straight up that a child who feels empathy for the rocks and the kids in far-off countries, or who cannot tolerate the intense lighting or sounds in his classroom, is WAITING to understand why this is happening. Knowing that it is commonly a part of being gifted would be a relief, not a burden. But this professional might not know the range of experiences that giftedness brings, only the scores on the test.
Ask a parent of a gifted toddler how easy their life is, or how easy their child’s life is, and you will very often hear a tale of frustration and sometimes even exhaustion. The life of a super-quick mind at 1 and 2 isn’t all charming enrichment activities at the zoo and the museum. Sure, it isn’t as difficult as when they are 7 and have no friends to discuss paleontology with, or no one to play soccer with at 5 because their skills so exceed everyone else, but it is still not that easy.
Here are a few situations that make raising (and being) a very young gifted child a struggle that can be misinterpreted as temperament or developmental issues:
- Gifted development is often extremely asynchronous at this age. Translation: “all over the place”. Gifted toddlers can be delayed in their motor skills and hugely advanced in their reasoning or language skills. Or the other way around. They can have sensory sensitivities that create tolerance issues to tags, lights, noise and more. Either way, it can be hard to be in a body that doesn’t match your mind. And hard to raise a child with asynchronous development. A child’s seemingly never-ending frustration about what they can’t accomplish and their strong skills that cannot be acted on make things tough at home and school. For example, a child that can read chapter books at 2.5 into the night, but needs to sleep for 10 hours so they aren’t angry and exhausted tomorrow is going to give you a real argument. Like a Supreme Court-level argument. Again and again, night after night. Gifted toddlers often like circle time because they get to answer questions, but they might refuse to participate in activities that they find boring. They are seen as oppositional or even assumed to be unable to participate, when if fact they find sticking cotton balls on paper silly.
- Toys for typical young children anticipate normal, evenly displayed development. This means that the knobs on microscopes and the gears on building toys aren’t made for the toddler who can conceive of an amazing building. The toys they want aren’t great for them and they toys they can manage are not exciting. Unless….they take them apart or melt them down to make something else. OOPS!
- Very young gifted children who are supposed to be developing social skills like sharing and cooperating are distinctly not motivated to do so with peers that are still non-verbal or have limited imaginative abilities. If they have access to older kids, they may be thrilled to have playmates a few years ahead of them, but if they don’t, they are more likely to avoid their peers. Parents are tasked with finding children that their gifted toddler can enjoy in play, and handle the questions from other parents about why their child simply “doesn’t like playing with my kid? That is beyond awkward. It sounds like boasting to a lot of people, but when your child is bored with his peers, it’s a real social problem for everybody!
- Parents find the high energy level and interactional demands exhausting. Not all young gifted kids are like the Sheldon Cooper character on Big Bang Theory. Lots of gifted toddlers love to ask questions and discuss things, love to be active all day long. They aren’t old enough to roam the web or go to the library. They want your attention. Short naps and even short sleep cycles without any fatigue or behavior problems are one way to spot a gifted toddler. Those brains don’t always need as much sleep as typically developing kids. That means a lot more demands on parents and caregivers. If you have been dogged all day by a toddler that won’t let go of a discussion, you might wish (a bit) that your kid wasn’t so S-M-A-R-T!
Why don’t psychologists seem to get this? I am going to go out on a limb and say that unless they have raised their own gifted kids, they don’t interact with very young gifted kids in their clinics or research facilities. Until they can formally test them, they aren’t on the radar of these professionals. But it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Out here in the real world, I treat about 3 toddlers that appear to be highly gifted each year. And I see what struggles they and their families go through.
Read more about gifted children and the challenges of being gifted in How To Spot A Gifted Child In Your Preschool Class (Or Your Living Room!) and How To Talk So Your Gifted Child Will Listen.