Being "gifted" is the combined result of both nature and nurture. Genetic traits that affect brain development play a central role, as do environmental factors such as access to books and other sources of information.
Parents of gifted children are often encouraged to not "push" their kids; and are told to just "let your kid be a kid;" but it's important to know whether or not your child is gifted so that you can find an academic setting for them to thrive.
Gifted students are usually identified by teachers who take notice of the child's exceptional scholastic performance. Grades and high scores on things like standardized tests are often used in conjunction with input from teachers and parents in order to make the designation.
Often times gifted children may not be particularly good students. Some gifted children struggle to paying attention in class and have poor organizational skills. These traits can lead teachers to label gifted students as "underachievers."
However, such behavior could be the result of the child not feeling challenged by their school work, and can sometimes result in a child being overlooked by their teachers when it comes time to identify the gifted children.
For some teachers, this can be am easy mistake to make.
Many teachers receive little to no training in identifying gifted students and not every school has a special program for gifted students. The schools that do, often do not begin identifying gifted children until the second or third grade. That's why is important that parents familiarize themselves with the signs of giftedness as soon as possible.
This is particular true if the child is exhibiting behavioral irregularities or social awkwardness.
Testing is recommended if your child begins showing intense interest in something unusual, or appears more distractible then other children their age, or shows difficulty fitting in among their peers.
These could be signs of giftedness; but they could also be indicative of some sort of behavioral problem like ADHD, or autism.
Knowing the child's IQ can be particularly helpful in gaining insight into their development and avoiding a potential misdiagnosis.
Some common characteristics among gifted children include:
Advanced language skills. Most children begin speaking at around 2 years of age but gifted children may begin even earlier. They may exhibit a highly-developed vocabulary, quick speaking, and may use longer and more complex sentences. They may also show a heightened awareness of double entendres and nuances in speech; and may adopt a more advanced speaking posture when conversing with adults.
Curiosity. Most gifted children show great interest in reading and less interest in physical activities. They will usually ask questions about the things they see and hear around them and express a desire to hear thorough and detailed answers. Their minds typically respond in kind, absorbing new information effortlessly. They often enjoy talking to adults and older kids about the things that interest them.
Ability to learn and retain information. Gifted children usually retain new information quickly and easily. They may show an intense amount of focus on a topic that interests them and will seek out more information independently. Their ability to memorize and recall the information they learn is usually exceptional; and they generally take an immense amount of pride in their scholastic abilities. Many consider the act of learning to be "fun."
Independence. Gifted children usually require little to no instruction when learning a new discipline and will often express a desire to do it "their own way" or by themselves. They may have their own preferred ways of learning, and resist other methods that are taught to them by teachers and parents. Gifted children often identify as social introverts and enjoy solitary activities such as reading, writing, or simply daydreaming.
Early motor skill development. Children who are gifted often display better balance and coordination as well. They may show a heightened ability to assemble small objects (toys, building blocks, puzzles, Legos, etc...). However, gifted children sometimes lack fine motor skills and struggle with things like penmanship; although this may also be attributed to impatience with a slow and tedious task.
Creativity. Children who exhibit gifted behavior often thrive on complexity and can demonstrate multiple ways of solving the same problem. They usually take pleasure in making connections between unrelated ideas or topics, and will show an ability to concentrate on one particular topic for and extended period of time. They often show a greater appreciation for art and natural beauty; and take notice of things like animals, trees, flowers, and landscapes at an early age.
Emotion. Gifted children sometimes exhibit more intense emotions than their peers. They often show a heightened awareness of others feelings and circumstances; often showing empathy in situations where other children their age may appear indifferent. They may also show a better ability to relate to older kids and adults.
Some gifted children may only display a few of the aforementioned traits, and others may show the exact opposite of what we've come to expect from gifted children.
Some may have learning disabilities that are masking their true talents while others may intentionally hide their abilities in order to fit in better with their peers or avoid the pressure that comes with higher expectations.
Some seemingly gifted children may not measure up under testing; but this can also be attributed to higher levels of anxiety among the gifted, or to their inability to focus on mundane tasks.
Some children are gifted in certain areas but only possess mediocre abilities in other areas.
If you think your child might be gifted, here are a few things to think about:
Consider private testing. It's a controversial subject, but many experts believe parents should identify gifted children as soon as possible to properly nurture their talents.
Investigate alternate educational options. Private preschool, Montessori school, and early grade acceleration are all valid options.
Enroll your child in a school that offers separate programs for gifted children. These schools tend to be a magnet for more academically ambitious students and even if your child isn't technically "gifted" they can still benefit from being surrounded by creative and inquisitive people.
Psychology Today: "Is your child gifted? What to look for, why you should know."
Very Well Family: "How to tell if your child is gifted."