7 Signs Your Child Is Gifted -- & What to Do About It

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If you've got a kid who seems to know it all -- or at least learn it pretty darn quickly -- you've probably wondered if he or she could be considered gifted. And then you probably second-guessed yourself, thinking, Well, maybe I'm just a super proud mom?

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If you think your child could be gifted, you're probably onto something, says Devon MacEachron, PhD, a psychologist with a specialty practice assessing children for giftedness and making educational recommendations to them and their parents. "In my experience as a psychologist, when a parent says they think their child might possibly be gifted, it generally turns out that they are."

MacEachron notes that there isn't a definitive line that's easy to draw between smart and gifted. "All cognitive abilities exist along a spectrum," she explains. "A lot of people seem to think that 'gifted' means having an overall IQ above some arbitrary 'cut-off' that a school district or program uses as a selection criteria. I don't agree. Many highly gifted children are strong in just one or two of the cognitive ability areas measured by an IQ test, but not all."

In other words, a child might be considered gifted in music or athletics or math or even social skills or something else entirely. And she might need help in other areas.

"I look at bright or smart kids as mastering a finite set of skills or information while 'gifted' kids are able to synthesize across those same areas," says Brian Dixon, MD, psychiatrist at Progressive Psychiatry in Fort Worth, who has extensive experience working with gifted children. "For example, bright kids bring home A's and make short work of standardized testing. They get their work done, make it look easy, and rock out in STEM areas (science, technology, engineering, and math) since these are mostly concrete concepts. Gifted kids take the known and add in thoughtful nuances and ideas. They look deeper than 'what is' to 'what could be.'"

According to MacEachron, in addition to being deeply observant, gifted kids tend to: 

  • Be early achievers. Maybe they were talking, reading, or doing tough math much earlier than other kids the same age.
  • Be really perceptive and curious. Maybe your kid wants to know what those song lyrics really mean, while his siblings are just singing along. Or he's constantly asking why. About. Everything.
  • Need less sleep. Gifted kids don't want to miss a thing.
  • Have high energy. There's a constant need to be stimulated or entertained.
  • Be hypersensitive. Many gifted kids don't like loud noises or get uncomfortable easily. Maybe your child asks to have all the tags cut out of her clothing because they bother her. Maybe she has allergies. Believe it or not, these sensitivities can go hand-in-hand with giftedness.
  • Look alert. Does your child have a bright look in her eyes? Some gifted kids seem to radiate their intelligence with an alert and engaged demeanor. Obviously this isn't a measurable quality, but MacEachron says, "When I see it, I know the child is gifted. Some children walk in my office and I can tell right away."

If you just read those descriptions and thought Yep, sounds like my kid, you don't have to do anything at all. But a common issue with gifted kids is that they get bored in regular classes and act out, says Dixon. That's a sign your child might need more of an academic challenge.

"Gifted children do have special needs, just like any other kind of atypical or exceptional learner -- such as ones with learning disabilities, or ADHD," says MacEachron. "They need faster-paced, more in-depth instruction, to be mentally stimulated, and to be allowed to follow their interests and passions."

Some schools have gifted programs, which kids can test into. If yours doesn't, there may be a local district with a program your child could participate in. Other options may include skipping a grade, changing schools, attending private school, or even homeschooling. Or you may choose an after-school or summer program designed for gifted children.

"I do think it's important for parents to try to meet their gifted child's learning needs. Giftedness is like an itch -- it can be annoying if you don't scratch it." says MacEachron. "The gifted child who spends years in classrooms he or she finds under-stimulating may start to act up out of boredom or internalize the frustrations in the form of anxiety or depression. They may turn off to learning altogether."

There are many possibilities for enriching your child's learning, and there's no one solution that works for every gifted kid. What's important is that you find ways to satisfy your gifted child's unique sense of curiosity. That may take a lot of trial and error, says Dixon. So trust your gut and listen to your kid. Try a few camps or classes or workshops and see what makes your child happy.

"The National Association for Gifted Children is a great place to start while you search for creative outlets for your potentially gifted child," says Dixon. "Start by asking your child, 'What problem would you like to solve for the world?' and then watch the magic happen."

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