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Do You Have A Gifted Child? Signs Your Child Might Need An Extra Challenge

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Each child is unique. We know that. But what about when a child seems years ahead of their peers in academic and social skills?

Gifted children exhibit a variety of characteristics. They’re academically talented, more emotionally developed than their peers and more independent in decision-making and executive functioning. 

But it can be hard to measure many of these skills. Because of this, the criteria for “gifted students’ often vary from school to school. Professionals can use academic benchmarks such as test scores, but measuring social awareness, emotional intelligence and life skills is not so clear-cut. 

If your child is considered gifted by their school district, they may be admitted to specialized school programs designed to challenge and develop their talents. But, like everything else, there are pros and cons to consider with these programs. This article will outline those along with how to spot a gifted learner and alternatives to gift programs.  

Characteristics of gifted children

Gifted children shine in different ways, but they share a few traits. A gifted child will likely show early signs of their special nature. Their behaviors will look different from their peers. And they’ll gain new skills quickly, hitting milestones ahead of the norm.  

It’s important to note here that while good grades and high scores on standard achievement tests are certainly signs of a bright child, they don’t always indicate a gifted child. Let’s explore this difference and learn the signs you may see of your child’s giftedness at various ages. 

Early signs of giftedness

Yes, it’s possible to see signs of giftedness in toddlers and even babies! There are several different behaviors gifted children show that sets them apart from their peers. 

Some common early signs of giftedness include:

  • Atypical alertness
  • Long attention span
  • Outstanding memory
  • Advanced progression through milestones like crawling, standing, walking, and talking

It may be difficult to see the full extent of your child’s giftedness before they start talking. But you’ll likely notice things here and there that seem exceptional. And as the years progress, giftedness becomes increasingly clear.

Signs of giftedness in older children

A child’s giftedness often becomes more apparent once they begin school. In elementary, middle and even high school, gifted students will stand out from the crowd. And not just in IQ tests and standardized assessments. 

Signs your older child may be gifted:

  • Fast learner
  • Highly curious
  • Thinks abstractly
  • Vivid imagination
  • Large vocabulary
  • Highly independent
  • Evolved sense of humor
  • Advanced emotional skills
  • Experiences perfectionism
  • Excellent problem-solving skills
  • Has strong critical thinking skills
  • More self-aware than other kids their age
  • Understands concepts several grade levels above their own

Did you know that boredom is also a sign of giftedness?

Although you might assume gifted kids simply do well at school and are always well-behaved, a child’s giftedness can also show up through boredom. If your child is suddenly displaying negative behaviors at school, despite doing well academically, this could be why. A gifted program could be exactly what they need to stay engaged and out of trouble.

The difference between a bright child and a gifted learner

Maybe you know a child that fits some of these criteria, but you’re not sure if they fit the “gifted” title. 

There is a difference between a gifted child and a bright child. A bright child is challenged by the curriculum in their current grade. And they excel in learning those age-appropriate concepts. On the other hand, a gifted child needs material several levels above their age to feel challenged. 

Many gifted programs are designed to cater to both the bright and gifted child. So even if your bright child is not ahead socially and emotionally, they may still benefit from the challenge of an accelerated academic program.

Qualities of a bright child

Child in classroom raising hand to answer a question.

While there isn’t a complete consensus on what defines a bright child, there are some signs to spot. Here’s how a bright child compares to a gifted child:

  • Learns with ease versus already knowing concepts
  • Interested in learning versus highly curious
  • Completes assignments versus initiates projects
  • Works hard and tests well versus barely works at all and tests well
  • Answers questions correctly versus giving detailed and elaborate answers beyond what is asked
  • Enjoys spending time with peers versus prefers the company of adults
  • Takes 6-8 repetitions for mastery versus 1-2 repetitions for mastery
  • Feels pleased with their own learning versus a highly self-critical, always wanting to know more attitude

These are just a few of the ways a gifted student may differ from a bright student. The main difference is that gifted individuals are far beyond their years while bright students are in the top percentile for their age. 

Remember, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a child being considered bright instead of gifted! It’s simply a distinction to help each child get the right support and resources. When you’re considering whether to skip a grade, homeschool, enter a gifted program or stay the current course, it’s helpful to have this information known.

Are gifted programs beneficial? The pros and cons of a gifted education

Gifted child studying at a desk with her mom.

Gifted programs are designed to challenge students by providing material that’s more engaging. Most gifted programs have certain criteria that need to be met in order for a child to be admitted. These requirements vary from school to school but often include standards for academic achievements and social behaviors. 

But like anything in life, gifted programs are not perfect. There are challenges and downsides every parent should explore before deciding what’s best for their child. Ideally, a child should be included in this decision as it affects their life in a multitude of ways. And a gifted child is capable of understanding the academic and social impacts of this decision.

The pros of a gifted education

The positive aspects of a gifted education program include:

  • Increased self-esteem 

If your gifted child has never had to work hard to accomplish something, then they’ve missed out on some important self-esteem building. The feeling of accomplishment when they master difficult concepts in a gifted program can really give them a boost. 

  • Accelerated talent development 

Gifted individuals often have unique interests and talents they’d like to explore. This could be anything from astrology to medicine to playing the violin. A gifted program can give them the enrichment and resources needed to develop these skills. 

  • Better socialization with like-minded peers 

Gifted children often struggle to connect with other kids their own age. They just  have so much more knowledge inside their heads. Once they’re with like-minded peers, they may find social connections easier to navigate. 

  • Heightened academic challenge and enrichment 

Many gifted students have never experienced what it’s like to be challenged in the classroom. Gifted programs can be tailored to each child’s interests, keeping them hungry to learn. 

The cons of a gifted education

There are also some cons that should be considered before a child enters a gifted program. While these educational programs are fantastic for some kids, the cons may outweigh the benefits for others. 

Some possible negatives to consider are:

  • Often underfunded

Gifted programs require a lot of money to provide specialized instruction and one-on-one support. Many school districts can’t afford this bill and will have to cut corners instead.

  • Increased expectations 

Especially in the first few weeks and months of the program, a child can struggle with the more difficult work. They may also feel they have to prove themselves since they were admitted to a special program. 

  • Harsher self-criticism 

Gifted children will likely take longer to grasp concepts once they’re in a gifted program. This new experience can cause them to question themselves and their identity and be more self-critical.

  • Decreased socialization with peers 

If your child attends a school with a small gifted program, there may be very few opportunities for them to interact with others throughout their day. Or the curriculum may be so specialized that they are often learning on their own. 

These cons can be combated with the right support inside and outside of the program. Before entering the program, ask lots of questions. Learn everything there is to know about the program’s philosophies, procedures, and goals. And consider getting your child a mental health professional outside of school to talk with as they make this big transition.

At the end of the day, you should make the decision that’s best for your child and family. Whatever decision that is is the right decision.

Alternatives to gifted programs

If you decide that a gifted program isn’t the right option for your child (or their public school doesn’t offer one), there are their ways you can support your child’s learning

You could also consider: 

  • School clubs 

Academic clubs or interest-specific clubs, like chess club, can be great ways to nurture your child’s desire to learn. 

  • Enrolling in college courses 

A gifted child in middle or high school may be able to keep up with college courses. Meet with an advisor at your local college to see if this is an option for your child. 

  • Specialized learning lessons at home 

You may be able to find resources online or in books to challenge your child at home.

  • Seeking out an expert

If your child loves pigs, find a farmer they can follow for a day. If they’re into biology, ask a scientist if they can chat with them and answer their questions. 

  • Skipping a grade 

Skipping a grade can be a great option to challenge your child academically while not completely ostracizing them from their peers. 

Hire a professional tutor, or even a college student, to help your child work through challenging material. 

Use Prodigy to challenge your gifted child in math and English

If you're looking to challenge your child, Prodigy's learning games for math and English can be a great starting point!

These games use an adaptive algorithm that helps challenge them on their weakest areas as they advance through their curriculum.

And for kids, Prodigy can be amazingly good fun!

In Prodigy Math, kids create their own wizard and explore a magical island filled with new quests, spells and powerful Pets they can tame. And as they play, they'll answer math questions – helping them stay engaged in math.

In Prodigy English, your child builds their very own paradise. They'll explore their world, gathering materials and putting them together to craft their own items to place in their world. They can complete quests, go fishing, adopt pets to live with them and more!

Plus, with a Prodigy Membership, parents can get all sorts of insight in their child's progress. Our parent account includes tools like:

  • Grade Override – Have your child try math questions at a higher grade level
  • Cheer Them On – Send encouraging messages to your child as they play Prodigy
  • Goals & Rewards – Set learning goals for your child and give them in-game rewards
  • Classroom Learning – See how well your child is doing in class compared to their peers
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