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How to Recognize When a Child is Gifted

How to Recognize When a Child is Gifted

Gifted kids show amazing talent that needs to be nurtured--but they can also display unique social and behavioral issues.

Andi Stix, director of G-tec Kids, a program for gifted and talented students in New Rochelle, was teaching a math class about finding a pattern to discover the square root of any given number. The class eventually came up with a pattern, until one child proclaimed, “The pattern will work up until 10,000 and then fall apart.” Astonished, Stix says she asked how the child knew that, and he answered, “I can just see it.” He turned out to be right—a case of profound giftedness, or some may even say, a prodigy.   

Every child has her own talents and all children are unique in their own ways. But when it comes to cognitive development and intelligence, how do parents and educators judge whether a child is more than just your average smart kid?


Identifying Giftedness in Kids

Giftedness can present itself in early childhood, according to the National Association of Gifted Children, which lists the characteristics of gifted children, such as an excellent memory, an unusually high vocabulary or sentence structure for their age, or a highly developed curiosity. However, there are different ways to classify and identify giftedness, since every child is unique.

There are many smart kids in the world; however gifted students make up only 6-10 percent of the population, according to the NAGC. Clinically, giftedness is defined as anyone with an IQ of 130 or higher. If an IQ exceeds the 145-150 range, a person is considered profoundly gifted.

Some children are gifted at just about everything. “There are a small percentage of gifted kids who excel in every subject as well as most extracurricular activities,” says Tobi J. Phillips, president and founder of Village East Gifted, a program for gifted children with locations in Huntington Station and Roslyn Heights. “They are very rare, but I do see them.”

More frequently, though, giftedness presents itself in one particular field, such as music, art, or math. Therefore, one important factor in identifying giftedness is determining how a child is gifted. “Our curriculum follows Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, with the premise that students can be intelligent in different ways, such as cognitively, physically, mathematically, or musically,” Phillips says. 

If your child is gifted in mathematics, for example, she will display extreme excellence and interest in the subject by doing puzzles and games and logic problems in her spare time, according to a Forbes article, “How to Tell If Your Child’s Gifted.” Children who are more profoundly gifted might even begin doing algebra before kindergarten.

Although there are tests to prove that a child is gifted rather than just bright, many experts in the field believe giftedness can be discovered without a test. Nevertheless, educators will administer tests to see if a child is gifted, including the Stanford Binet (L-M), Wescher Intelligence Scale for Children, or general standardized tests such as the SAT.

There are so many factors that come into play when determining whether a child is gifted, so it is important for educators and parents to see the child as a whole. Many kids can score very high on tests, but IQ is not the only factor when it comes to true giftedness, Stix says. The way a child challenges material and reacts to that material is where people see true gifted potential.

Stix, therefore, is not a fan of just using tests to judge giftedness. “I am very uncomfortable with the idea of testing giftedness because you are saying on that date, on that time, and that environment will the child present themselves to meet the standards of the school,” she says. “I think the most important thing I distinguish between a gifted child and a bright child is if the child is inventing, creating, producing, designing within whatever area of expertise or passion that they have.”

RELATED: Find an academic enrichment program near you.

Behavior Issues Among Gifted Kids

Although gifted children are intellectually advanced for their age, many face unique social issues. High expectations and the pressure put on gifted children can lead to stress and anxiety, writes Jennifer Murdock-Smith in “Understanding the Social and Emotional Needs of Gifted Children,” a 2013 article in Rivier Academic Journal. “Gifted children’s cognitive development also often occurs at a more advanced rate than social/emotional development, which makes fitting in with peers difficult. This cognitive advancement can also have a corresponding high degree of moral development and sense for the need to follow rules, which can result in ‘bossiness’ and rigid behavior furthering affect peer relations,” Murdock-Smith writes in the article.   

In the classroom, some gifted children choose to be very polite and helpful and become the teacher’s helper, Phillips says. Since these students are usually way ahead of their classmates academically, they become a mini teacher’s assistant, helping the teacher with anything.

Others quietly go along with their classmates so they can more easily assimilate with their peers, choosing to keep their giftedness a secret, Phillips says. They remain middle-of-the-road behaviorally—not acting out and not being the teacher’s helper—while getting perfect scores on everything and not bragging about it. These children also tend not to answer all the questions, even though they know the answer, because they do not want to draw attention from their peers.

However, once gifted children are put into a gifted program where the other students are at their level, their behavior can change. Phillips tells the story of a child who was new to a gifted and talented program. He was accustomed to being the smartest child in the room and impressing everyone around him, including the adults. When he entered the class on the first day, he stood up and said he can count to 20 in Spanish, and asked if he could recite it to the class. “I said I will be happy to listen to him when the class is over,” Phillips says. He was very quiet during the class, which Phillips says can be expected since he was now around other peers who might be more intelligent than him. 

At the end of class, the student again asked if he could count in Spanish, but before he even began another child blurted out, “Well, I can count to 100 in Mandarin,” followed by another who said, “I can count to 100 in Romanian, Cantonese, and Sanskrit.”

The moral: It is important for gifted students to be around others of the same intellectual level, so they have the chance to be challenged in the classroom.



What if a child’s cognitive level exceeds even giftedness? These children are extremely rare and present themselves with seemingly miraculous capabilities. These kids are generally known as prodigies.  

“One definition of the term prodigy is a child who has achieved an appreciable measure of adult intellectual understanding in a particular field before he or she is out of the years devoted to secondary school education,” according to the article “Prodigies of Nature” by J.S. Jenkins in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

A prodigy will become of a master of a particular field at a young age. Mozart was considered a music prodigy and was able to identify pitch correctly and quickly without external reference by the age of 7—an extraordinarily rare ability, even for adults, Jenkins writes

Stix, who also has worked closely with some prodigies, explains: “I think prodigies, the speed they integrate at is simply much faster. The links they make in terms of integrating material is higher and their productions are most complex. It is a very difficult thing to raise a prodigy because emotionally they want to be their age level but cognitively they can be light years ahead of themselves.”

Prodigies often experience a lot of loneliness because other kids cannot connect with them, Stix says. Parents raising a prodigy need to try their best to try to get their child into programs to engage with others like them, she advises.      


Raising a Gifted Child

Whether someone is bright, gifted, or even a prodigy, parents need to keep in mind that every child is still an individual and parents and educators must cater to what is in the best interest of that particular person. The most important factor in helping a child is trying to keep her brain stimulated, experts say.

“When a parent finds out that his or her child is gifted,” Phillips says, “I always recommend spending as much time as possible visiting science and art museums, reading classic literature and nonfiction books, traveling to historic destinations and arranging play dates with children of similar intellectual abilities and interests. If they are getting enrichment outside the classroom, they will be more patient with the standard curriculum.” For example, she continues, “If they’re in a classroom and they are assigned a book report on Charlotte’s Web, a parent should reach out to the teacher to allow the child to select a more advanced novel after she or he has completed the assignment based on Charlotte’s Web.

Whether it is signing the child up to be in a gifted and talented program or speaking to an educator to ensure the appropriate measures are taken within the regular school environment, it is important that giftedness is not ignored, experts agree. By enriching a child or putting him in a gifted program, a child will be given the tools to thrive.

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Amanda Marrone

Author: Amanda Marrone is a senior at Fairfield University and a former editorial intern with NYMP. She enjoys shopping and is always in search of the perfect deals. She can be found in workout clothes while snapping pictures of her dog and enjoying a refreshing iced coffee. See More

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