Category Archives: gifted children

What Psychologists Just Don’t Get About Raising Gifted Toddlers

myung-won-seo-675403-unsplashI 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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!
  4. 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.

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How To Spot A Gifted Child In Your Preschool Class (Or Your Living Room!)

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Bright kid: “Are there any sharks out there?” Gifted kid:  ” The most common shark in the Atlantic Ocean is the ….”

Do you have a gifted kid?  Do you teach one?  You might not be able to tell the difference between a bright child and a gifted child by the number of letters they know, or the facts about dinosaurs they can recall.  Here are some distinct signs that your child, student or therapy client is actually gifted:

  • They are not a joy to teach.  Bet you didn’t expect that!  Yes, the gifted child isn’t usually sitting there soaking up knowledge.  They are out there arguing points and doing their own experiments.  They see the subtle differences, so they are going to bring up the exceptions to ALL of your rules.  They don’t like rules and correct answers nearly as much as the bright kids.  They are interesting to teach, but they won’t be as easy to teach as the bright children who simply learn what they are told and repeat it back to you.
  • They learn fast.  Really fast.  The typical child will need 15-20 repetitions or demonstrations and practice to learn a skill. The gifted children may only need 1-2 repetitions to learn.  The bright children need 5-8 reps.  So if you demonstrate a dance move or how to write a letter and your child copies you perfectly the first time, you may have a gifted child in front of you!
  • They NEED complexity and novelty.  Note that I said “need” versus “prefer”.  These kids don’t love routines.  They learn them quickly, but they find them boring, not comforting.  They don’t want to hear a favorite book again as much as they want you to read the next book in the series.  Without sufficient stimulation, the gifted child will go find her own entertainment and probably tell you what to do with your routines!  Bright children are often happiest when they can show you what they remember.  Gifted kids like to show you what you aren’t seeing or mentioning about a topic.
  • Gifted children are intensely curious.  This is different in magnitude from a bright child, who is interested in many things and consistently pays attention to stories and lessons.  The gifted child wants to know everything, and they want to know it now.  If the questions that you are asked show a level of synthesis you would not expect based on age and exposure, you may have a gifted child in front of you!
  • They have a lot of energy.  The gifted child may not need that nap, or they may collapse suddenly due to their full-on approach to life.  They could wake up totally ready to go, and go to sleep talking as well.  This is a child that isn’t going to want to be quiet when they have something to say.  The bright kids raise their hands and wait to be called on.  Be prepared to expend some energy yourself to engage with a gifted child.
  • Their passions and ideas can result in daydreaming and preferring to work alone on their projects.  This doesn’t mean they can’t be social.  But it may mean that they see no point in gluing construction paper triangles onto a pumpkin when they could be creating a pumpkin patch and a corn maze like they visited this weekend.  They won’t passively complete your project when they have a better idea of their own.

If you have spotted a child that may be gifted, you will want to offer them the opportunity to expand and explore within your classroom or your home.  You don’t need to label them.  If you find that their abilities place them far outside the reach of your class plan or they complain about school, it may be time to pursue formal testing.  Linda Silverman, a psychologist with a specialization in working with the gifted, suggests that any child that tests more than 2 standard deviations from the the mean (statistically far from average) is in need of special educational services.  Just because gifted kids are not below average doesn’t mean that they don’t have needs.  To learn more about gifted kids, read How To Talk So Your Gifted Child Will Listen and Sensitivity and Gifted Children: The Mind That Floods With Feeling.  Some gifted kids have other issues.  Read Gifted and Struggling? Meet the Twice Exceptional Student and How OT Can Help.

And remember that “gifted” doesn’t mean “better kid”.  It just means better skills.  The gifted population has been hammered for being elitist, when in fact, they receive a lot of criticism and prejudice as well as glory.  Treating these kids fairly will allow them to thrive!

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Is Your Gifted Child A “Troublemaker”?

 

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When you hear hoofbeats, maybe you SHOULD think zebras and not horses!

Gifted and talented children are frequently leaders in their schools and communities.  They often have advanced language skills and display an early and intense sense of humor. Gifted children can be the funny, outgoing, energetic kids who have deep empathy and abundant warmth.  Wondering if your young child might be gifted?  Read How To Spot A Gifted Child In Your Preschool Class (Or Your Living Room!).

But being gifted isn’t all rainbows and first place ribbons.  Some aspects of being gifted contribute to styles of interaction with authorities and peers that are not a cause for celebration. Gifted kids can be perceived as causing trouble, creating conflict and disrupting things wherever they go.  Super-bright children might end up with this label for the following common behaviors and characteristics:

  • They resist many rules as limiting and irrelevant.  “Because that’s the way it’s done” is not accepted when a gifted child sees the rule as useless or worse: illogical.
  • Boredom with class material they have already mastered gets expressed as anger or  criticism.
  • Their unique interests mean that they may reject their peer’s play schemes and try to convince their friends to play games their way or else.
  • They talk.  A lot.  At times, they may take over a discussion or attempt to alter a teacher’s presentation to address related issues or get more in-depth about a topic.  They may not be able to let a topic go until they have asked every question and made every point that they find important.
  • The frequent sensitivity of gifted children might make a normal level of noise, light or interaction too stimulating, and younger children especially will react in frustration or even tantrums.
  • Your gifted child may be having difficulty with an area of development that has been masked by their talents.  Gifted and Struggling? Meet the Twice Exceptional Student and How OT Can Help A common example would be the gifted child who is struggling with dyslexia, but has been able to use powerful memory and logic to fill in the blanks in a story.  They may not have read the book, but they are able to recall enough of the teacher’s description or the cover’s blurb to “fake it”.  The resulting failure and frustration, even with high overall test scores, builds their resentment and avoidance.

What can you do to transform a gifted troublemaker into your family’s champion or star?

  • The first step is to recognize where the ‘trouble” is coming from.  Your child’s early developmental skills and rapid acquisition of new information could be fueling their behavior.  Seen through this lens, many of the frustrating reactions and interactions with gifted children become understandable.
  • Explore ways to create a more enriched environment for your child.  It doesn’t have to be classes and microscope sets.  It could be more trips to the library or more craft materials to allow all that creativity to be expressed.  Children that are fulfilled are less crabby, less demanding and less resistant.
  • Be willing to take the time to answer questions and discuss the origins of rules.  A rule that is in place for safety can be accepted if it is explained.  A rule about social behavior, such as allowing everyone to have a turn in order, is an important lesson in navigating a world in which the kids with the fastest brains aren’t always the ones who get the first turn.
  • Consider the possibility that your gifted troublemaker is “twice exceptional”.  There may be issues like dyslexia or sensory processing disorder that need to be addressed.  Other issues don’t have to be cognitive.  Your child may be struggling with anxiety or coordination.  Giftedness doesn’t discriminate or remove all challenges to learning.  But remember that these do not minimize their profound gifts in other areas.  They complicate them.
  • Share your awareness of their gifts with them.  Kids who know that their frustrations and responses have a source other than being a difficult person have higher self esteem.  A gifted kid who thinks badly about themselves?  Yes, it does happen.  Feeling different from their friends, knowing that their ideas aren’t always welcomed, being told to be quiet and go along with the flow.  All of these can make a gifted child question themselves.  When you explain that their brain works differently, and that you will help them navigate situations successfully, your support can make a tremendous difference!
  • If you engage a psychologist, be aware that they may not see what you see.  I wrote What Psychologists Just Don’t Get About Raising Gifted Toddlers out of my frustration with professionals who don’t see beyond a standardized test to the full effects of giftedness on toddlers.

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How To Talk So Your Gifted Child Will Listen

 

 

greyson-joralemon-299735I 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 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.

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Should You Tell Your Gifted Child About Their Giftedness?

 

wout-vanacker-497472Your child is gifted.  Perhaps a school psychologist has formally tested your child, or you have engaged private testing that indicated advanced skills.  Or perhaps you watch your child on the ball field or in school plays.  She just blows her peers away.  Everyone knows that there is something very special about your child’s abilities.

What do you say to your child about his gifts?  Do you say anything at all?  Does it really matter how you discuss giftedness with children?

Many, but not all, gifted kids will figure out that they are different, even without formal testing.  By 5, children have started comparing themselves and their abilities to their friends, classmates and siblings.   Gifted children begin to notice that their skills in some areas exceed their peers.  They may also realize that they react differently.  The many “over-excitabilities” of giftedness can result in greater sensory sensitivity, emotional sensitivity,  a sense of justice far beyond their years, a quirky sense of humor, or a level of energy and movement that doesn’t match friends and classmates.

I think that kids benefit in two big ways from knowing about their gifts: they will not interpret “different” as “bad” or “exempt from challenge”, and they can learn to manage any sensitivities or intensity differences with confidence.  Can gifted traits be disruptive to the status quo?  Sure, but that’s not necessarily a problem when it is managed well.

I like Mary-Elaine Jacobsen’s personal management strategies in her book, “The Gifted Adult”.  I think that many of her suggested approaches to handling what she sees as a triad of constant brain traits (complexity, intensity and drive) in gifted adults can be applied to supporting a gifted child.

Young gifted children may ask questions constantly, want to discuss their passions without end, and strive for perfection when everyone else is satisfied with their first amazing effort.  They want to answer every question posed in class and may want to control a game because they are bored with a simpler strategy of play.  Telling a child that they are “too much”, when these behaviors emerge as the result of their brain’s makeup, is potentially harmful.  It is possible to teach children to manage the expression of their gifts without denying their nature.  It starts with telling them the truth: they are wired differently.  Acknowledging their frustrations and providing solutions isn’t always easy, but even an incomplete attempt done with compassion and optimism is better than telling them to fit in and stop causing problems.

Children who don’t have to work to receive high grades may not feel empowered by acing a test; they may feel like frauds when complimented for effort they didn’t expend, or even fear the loss of praise when they are encouraged to explore advanced studies.  Gifted children need to hear praise for the quality of their efforts even more than children who struggle. Telling a child that their creativity and depth of thought is what you find impressive, rather than their grade, communicates that the true nature of their giftedness is seen and appreciated.

There are other challenges that gifted children face, with the degree of challenge increasing when their abilities far outrun their peers or when areas of disability create the situation of being “twice exceptional”.  Take a look at  Gifted and Struggling? Meet the Twice Exceptional Student and How OT Can Help.  Supporting children is so important under these circumstances.  Being honest is just the beginning.

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Why Gifted Preschoolers Should Be Taught Handwriting Early (And With The Best Strategies!)

 

 

guillaume-de-germain-329206Gifted children are identified by their asynchronous development.   The three year-old that can read, the two year-old that can play a song on the piano after hearing it once at music class, the four year-old that can complete his sister’s math homework…from second grade! These children have one or more advanced areas of skill that classify them as gifted.  One of the skills that rarely emerges early in the gifted population is handwriting.  More often, gifted children have problems with handwriting. Some are just sloppy, some produce illegible products even after trying their best.

A few theories exist to explain this phenomenon:  gifted children are more concerned with expression and ignore handwriting lessons, their typical motor development doesn’t keep up with their advanced cognitive skill progression and they give up, or perhaps a gifted student with poor handwriting has an undiagnosed motor and learning disabilities.

I am going to suggest an additional explanation:  gifted children are not given effective early pre-writing instruction and are often taught to write using strategies that create confusion, boredom or frustration, turning a fast learner into an underachiever.  Gifted kids like novelty, complexity and intensity.  Tracing a dotted-line “A” over and over isn’t any of those things.  Gifted children often remain so focused on their passions that it is easier to let them go and shine in their chosen areas than to make handwriting fun and appealing.

Yes, it is true that children with advanced cognitive skills could have average or below-average motor skills that don’t allow them to independently write a complex original story.  Writing details down may take too long for their quick minds, or they need to use letters they don’t yet have the skills to execute.  A child with an amazing imagination and vocabulary may find standard writing drills dull in comparison to the creative process.  Gifted children may even be averse to the unavoidable failure inherent in practice that leads to mastery.

What can be done?

  • Good pre-writing instruction is essential to build the foundational motor control and spatial skills.  This includes teaching grasp rather than waiting for it to develop, purposely building two-handed coordination and drawing into play,  and using other pre-writing tasks such as mazes, puzzles and tracing/dot-to-dot (not for letters, for drawing).  See Why Dot-To-Dot Letter Practice Slows Down Writing Speed and Legibility to understand why dots aren’t a great strategy for any child.  Learning to draw balloons, birthday cakes and Christmas trees is fun.  It is also a great way to practice writing the curves and intersecting angles that letters require.
  • Use multi-sensory, multi-media methods to develop pre-writing and handwriting skills.  Many gifted children love sensory-based experiences.  Their natural drive for intensity and complexity can be satisfied when letters are made from pretzel sticks or Play-Dough.
  • Create a fun, open environment for learning, in which challenge is expected and success is both celebrated and beside the point.  If children are taught that they are expected to know all the answers since they are gifted, exploration can be suppressed.  If they learn that failure is anticipated and shame-free, it allows them to try again and invent solutions to the problems they face.
  • Harness the skills a gifted child possesses to advance their handwriting development.  Children that have great spatial awareness notice letter formation similarities and proportion rules.  They transform an “F” into an “E” and chop two vertical lines in half to make an “H”.  Children in love with language can use fun mnemonic devices or little “stories” that help them form letters correctly.  When the letter “S” starts as a mini “C” and then “turns around and goes back home” they remember the formation of this tricky letter more easily than copying or tracing alone.

As an occupational therapist, I use the Learning Without Tears program (formerly known as Handwriting Without Tears).  The materials are high-quality, the learning progression is developmental and builds one skill on top of the previous skill, and the early levels are more sensory-based than most writing programs.  See Can HWT’s Flip Crayons Transform Pencil Grasp in Preschoolers? and Why Do You Start (Uppercase) Letters at the Top? Speed and Accuracy for some HWT strategies that really work.  Gifted kids usually want to be creative and expansive when learning, so take a look at Have More Fun When You Use Drawing To Develop Pre-Writing Skills to make teaching a gifted child   easier.

If you are the parent of a gifted child, or if you teach gifted preschoolers, please share your best strategies to support handwriting here!!!  If you are wondering if you should tell your child that their advanced skills have a name, “gifted”, check out Should You Tell Your Gifted Child About Their Giftedness? for some good reasons why they need to know and how to approach this issue with them.

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Holidays Hints For Sensitive Kids

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The stores are full, your inbox is too, and you are wondering how to handle your sensitive child’s reactions to family and school events.  You are not alone.

Everyone knows about the “holiday blues”, where our dreams and expectations come up against real life:  awkward family relationships, conflicting demands on our time and finances, etc.  But for kids with sensory and emotional sensitivity (I don’t see these as always separate issues, by the way), surviving the holiday season can be very difficult indeed.  The excitement and the novelty of the holidays affect them more intensely and are not always welcome additions to their days.   Here are some suggestions to make things better:

  • Think about an event before you commit to it.  The hour of the day, the size and the activity, the duration of the event are all considerations.  You know your child, so you can identify what factors will be the most challenging and what will be easier to handle.  In general, sensitive kids do best with smaller, shorter, quieter and earlier events.
  • Create your own event around your child, and invite others to join in.  When you get to design it, you have more control over how things play out.  Some suggestions would be cookie decorating, visiting a nursery or outdoor holiday display, making wrapping paper with crayons and stickers, and watching a holiday video party.
  • Get your sensory diet activities all set up for an event that you can’t or won’t cancel. Your OT should be able to help you craft a plan to reduce your child’s overall sensitivity with input such as deep pressure, breath control, tactile input, etc.  Just ask.  Most of us would be happy to help you.
  • Do not forget the basics of keeping any child calm at an event:  enough sleep, enough to eat and drink, and being healthy enough to participate.  If your child is ill, tired, or hungry, you need to think carefully about how well he will manage, and make the decision to cancel or alter your plans.   Sometimes the situation isn’t going to be fixed with a few bounces on a therapy ball and some joint compression.  In these situations, your child isn’t any different from any other child.

 

If you are looking for ideas about how to decrease sensitivity, take a look at How to Help Sensitive Kids Handle Greeting People (Including Their Own Parents!) and Sensory Sensitivity In Toddlers: Why Responding Differently to “Yucky!” Will Help Your Child

Holidays can be fun for everyone, including sensitive children.  Plan well, be flexible, and make thoughtful choices that work for your family!