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Kids who are gifted are often independent, motivated, and dazzlingly quick learners. But not everything comes easy. Even as highly intellectual children seem to breeze through the standard academic curriculum, they may need extra support to manage strong emotions and complex social situations.
There are ways you can help children realize their intellectual gifts while also encouraging them to maintain a healthy, happy approach to life. Learn how to identify gifted kids, understand their strengths, and guide them through challenges.
Every gifted child is different, but they are often keen problem solvers, critical thinkers, and intensely focused on certain intellectual or creative passions. They may read early and have a large vocabulary. Social situations can be tricky for gifted children since they may be more sensitive and easily frustrated than others.
An intelligence quotient (IQ) test like Stanford-Binet or the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) is one way schools or specialists identify giftedness. A child who scores between 115 and 129 is considered mildly gifted; 130 to 144 is moderately gifted; 145 to 159 is highly gifted; 160 to 179 is exceptionally gifted; and 180 or higher is profoundly gifted.
Scientists think you can inherit a predisposition toward being gifted, and that about 50% of the difference between being gifted rather than just moderately intelligent can be chalked up to genes. However, how you're raised plays a big role. Children of parents who are supportive both emotionally and financially (to provide specialized classes or coaching) are more likely to realize their talents.
There are achievement tests and ability tests. Achievement tests (ERBs, MATs, SATs) test what your child already knows or has learned. Ability tests, like Stanford-Binet or the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC), measure a person's intelligence quotient (IQ). When experts are assessing giftedness in younger children (age 6 and under) they are likely to rely less on tests and more on parent/teacher checklists of characteristics and observations.
No, but some gifts and talents may be suppressed or unrealized. Some innately intellectual children may struggle with attention, lack study skills, or underachieve due to social or emotional issues. Putting exceptionally bright children who are underachieving in gifted programs where they can be challenged and better understood can help them realize their potential.
Some gifted kids experience depression, sometimes stemming from emotional sensitivities, perfectionism, and feelings of being different. Experts have observed that gifted people who are depressed tend toward "existential depression," in which they struggle with the heaviness and meaning of life. However, there isn't strong evidence that depression is more common in gifted youths. Research shows that rates of depression are about 10% in gifted teens and between 8% and 13% in all teens.
Sensual overexcitability, one of the five intense behavior patterns identified by Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski as common in gifted kids, is a heightened awareness of sight, smell, taste, touch, or hearing. Children with sensual overexcitability might be bothered by certain clothing textures or odors or crave things that are pleasurable and comfortable.
Intellectual overexcitability is an intense pursuit of truth and understanding of certain topics. Kids with this trait are often deeply curious but may not be academic high achievers. Often seen in gifted children, intellectual overexcitability is one of the five intense behavior patterns first described by Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski.
Hothousing is a term to describe some parents' attempts to accelerate young children's cognitive development through early and intense exposure to reading, math, and other academic subjects. Some experts worry that pushing intellectual challenges on children too soon can hinder normal development.
Intelligence quotient (IQ) is a measure of a person's ability to reason and solve problems. IQ tests like Stanford-Binet or the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) are considered suitable for children around age 6 and older.
A person's ability to recognize and manage their own emotions and respect and understand the feelings of others is emotional intelligence (EQ). Research shows that gifted individuals tend to have higher EQs than other people.
Phonemes are the individual speech sounds that make up words. Recognizing phonemes is the first step in learning to read.
A heterogeneous grouping is a way of mixing people with varied traits and abilities in one group. In a heterogeneous classroom, children who are typically developing might learn alongside kids who are gifted or have learning disabilities.
National Association for Gifted Children. Traits of gifted children.
Thomas MSC. A neurocomputational model of developmental trajectories of gifted children under a polygenic model: When are gifted children held back by poor environments? Intelligence. 2018;69:200-212. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2018.06.008
Subotnik RF, Olszewski-Kubilius P, Worrell FC. Environmental factors and personal characteristics interact to yield high performance in domains. Front Psychol. 2019;10:2804. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02804
National Association for Gifted Children. Tests and assessments.
Davidson Institute. What Is giftedness?
National Association for Gifted Children. Depression.
Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted. Existential depression in gifted individuals.
Pew Research Center. A growing number of American teenagers – particularly girls – are facing depression.
American Psychological Association. Hothousing.
Ogurlu U. A meta-analytic review of emotional intelligence in gifted individuals: A multilevel analysis. Personality and Individual Differences. 2021;171:110503. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2020.110503
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