Common Traits and Characteristics of Gifted Children

Gifted youth have distinct cognitive and social features

Young girl doing a puzzle

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If your child seems to have a wide vocabulary, an excellent memory, and started reading early, you may be wondering if your child is gifted. While no two gifted children are exactly the same, there are some characteristics that seem to be more predominant in gifted children.

So, what are the traits and characteristics that make gifted children stand out from their peers? Identifying these unique cognitive, social, and emotional traits isn't necessarily difficult. To the trained eye, it can be fairly easy to spot a gifted child. Even to the not-so-trained eye, it's easy to notice that a child is not quite like other children.

Still, parents often question what these differences mean. They know their child is smart, but could they actually be gifted? Reviewing this checklist of common characteristics found in gifted children is a quick first step parents can use to determine whether a child could potentially be gifted.

If a child displays some of these traits, consult their pediatrician, teacher, or school administrator about getting testing done to determine giftedenss. For young children, such testing may not be as reliable, so parents of small children, such as toddlers, can review the list of common traits found in young gifted children.

Cognitive Traits

When it comes to identifying gifted children, schools vary in their identification processes, but giftedness is typically reflected by a significantly higher IQ than their peers. This high IQ is demonstrated through advanced language development, abstract thinking, and advanced memory skills.

As for other cognitive characteristics, gifted children vary in their traits and abilities. For instance, some gifted children are very observant, extremely curious, and largely independent according to the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC). Other common characteristics include being a voracious and early reader, a critical thinker, and a natural problem-solver. Some gifted kids may even have a wide variety of interests, long attention spans, and excellent reasoning skills.

To determine if your child might be gifted, think about whether your child notices things that other children, or even adults, would overlook. And if your child annoys you by constantly peppering you with questions you might have a gifted kid on your hands. Your child also may be able to quickly and easily see relationships between ideas, objects or facts, and have fluent and flexible thinking. Even being particularly skilled at solving puzzles and riddles could be a sign of giftedness.

Gifted children's thinking tends to be elaborate and original, and they learn concepts quickly and with less practice and repetition than their peers need. And, if your child has an unusual or vivid imagination that sometimes lands them in hot water, consider that another sign of giftedness.

It's important to remember, though, that not every gifted child will display these cognitive traits, especially if the gifted child also has a learning disability or is an underachiever. The only way to truly determine if your child is gifted is to measure their IQ with an experienced tester.

Social and Emotional Traits

When it comes to giftedness, there are some misconceptions about what it means for kids socially and emotionally. In fact, research suggests that there are a number of stereotypes when it comes to giftedness that are often perpetuated by media representations causing people to believe that gifted kids struggle socially and emotionally. For instance, a lot of people attribute negative social-emotional characteristics such as isolation, lower agreeableness, higher introversion, and neuroticism to gifted students.

But, most studies indicate that gifted students are similar or slightly superior to average-ability kids when it comes to social and emotional traits.

If your child is gifted, try to avoid labeling them with negative social and emotional characteristics. Instead, according to NAGC look for and nurture these characteristics in your gifted child: empathy, intuitiveness, and creativity.

Overall, some gifted children stand out from their peers by developing interests in philosophical and social issues and may exhibit deep concern about fairness and injustice. They also can be perfectionistic, have high expectations of themselves and others, and have a well-developed, if not quirky, sense of humor.

Gifted kids also tend to be intrinsically motivated, meaning they set goals and challenges for themselves rather than to get the approval of others. While they may relate well to parents, teachers, and other adults, they also question authority out of curiosity or when they believe an injustice has occurred.

Likewise, some gifted children can be sensitive, both emotionally and physically. They may cry over things that other children shrug off or complain about tags in their clothes or the seams in their socks irritating their skin.

Keep in mind, though, as you review these traits that not every gifted child will display these characteristics. So, you need to avoid labeling your child or making assumptions about their personality or temperament and look for the individual characteristics of your child.

Additional Traits of Gifted Children

Most gifted children enjoy learning new things. Not only do they enjoy intellectual activity but they also may display intellectual playfulness. They likely prefer books and magazines meant for older children and adopt a skeptical, critical and evaluative attitude.

Gifted children also tend to have ​asynchronous development, meaning they may be mentally very astute but emotionally react to situations like a child their age, or even younger, would.

The language traits of gifted children set them apart as well. They tend to have extensive vocabularies and may read earlier than their peers. Even if they read at the standard age, they tend to read rapidly and widely. And, many gifted kids also love to ask "what if" questions.

According to the NAGC, there also are a number of behavioral and affective traits that you may recognize in your child. Just remember that your child does not have to display every trait listed in order to be considered gifted. Here are some additional traits you may notice in your potentially gifted child:

  • Spontaneous
  • Energetic
  • Curious
  • Impulsive or spirited
  • Easily frustrated
  • Determined or having perseverance

A Word From Verywell

While there are some commonalities when it comes to giftedness, it's important to remember that it is not a one-size-fits-all definition. Some kids may be gifted in many areas and others may be gifted in one particular area. Additionally, giftedness is dynamic and not static and needs to be identified as early as possible so that skills and talents can be nurtured and developed.

If you believe your child displays some signs of giftedness talk to your child's pediatrician as well as their teachers and administrators. Identifying your child's abilities early on can help you and their teachers craft an educational program that helps them reach their potential.

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