How to know if your child is highly gifted: Signs to look for

Parents sometimes find it difficult to properly understand and support their exceptional sons and daughters and worry that their kids will close themselves off. Experts recommend seeking advice

Niños superdotados
A group of children in class.Getty Images

Having a gifted child isn’t easy. According to the Spanish Association of Pediatrics (AEP), these children display a high level of aptitude in intellectual, creative and/or artistic areas; they possess leadership abilities or excel in specific academic areas. Identifying these children early is still quite rare. Many families only learn about this status after countless visits to different specialists, usually because the child’s behavior differs from that of other children their age. For most parents, this diagnosis causes fear and uncertainty because they do not know how to help and support their gifted child.

But an educational psychologist’s evaluation confirming the child’s high aptitude helps parents to better understand many of the child’s attitudes and behaviors. A diagnosis allows us to seek an adequate response to these children’s needs and strengths, thus avoiding possible difficulties in personal, school, social and academic areas. Not adequately addressing these specific educational and emotional needs can negatively impact the child’s personal and academic development.

According to Yolanda López, who holds a doctorate in Knowledge-Based Society and Action, giftedness should not just be regarded as a high IQ score but rather “a broad set of elements that encompass creativity, performance, emotional aspects, personality, motivation, [and] commitment to a task or endeavor.”

As López explains to EL PAÍS, when a family learns that their child is gifted, they react in different ways. Many parents feel relieved because they have finally found an explanation for some of their child’s needs and behaviors, which sometimes differ from that of other children the same age or their siblings. Others wonder whether they should tell their child and social circle about the diagnosis; they may be upset with the news and worry that the child will be rejected because he/she is considered different. There are still other families where a parent or close relative is also gifted and the child’s status does not come as much of a surprise.

But all parents coincide in their desire to support their children. They want to offer them the necessary help to grow up happily, ensuring that all their needs and abilities are met and developed and that their child appreciates that s/he is a special person with infinite learning possibilities. Aiding them in understanding their emotions appropriately, supporting their passions and being empathetic to their ways of understanding life should be paramount in educating these children. According to López, parents sometimes fear that gifted status will turn their children into odd ducks and that they will close themselves off, making it difficult for the children to relate to their peers.

Once they’ve determined that their child is gifted, parents should seek professional advice to better understand their child’s reality and debunk stereotypes and prejudices about their talents. Sometimes, a gifted child can destabilize a family dynamic if his or her emotional needs are not met, and parents should be mindful of the child’s relationship with siblings, if they have any.

“There’s no typical gifted child because each one has different motivations and personalities,” says López. But many of them do share a number of traits and characteristics: they usually have unequal motor and cognitive development; they are self-taught; and communication, concentration and the acquisition and use of information comes easily to them. In addition, they have an indefatigable desire to learn. They are very intense and have great emotional depth. These characteristics lead them to be introverted because they don’t understand – and feel insecure – when their peers don’t have similar interests.

Gifted children need a great deal of support from their parents. Mothers and fathers must be patient and accept their children as they are so that they feel that their family understands and supports them; this facilitates the development of their full potential and establishes a secure attachment. Parents should have appropriate expectations about their children’s abilities and reasoning; they need to teach their kids to embrace and accept what makes them unique and special.

López emphasizes the importance of recognizing that gifted children do not already know everything and that they need support for learning. It’s also essential for parents to realize that academically overloading gifted children or demanding more from them isn’t the best way to use or boost their abilities; doing so only creates an aversion to learning. We must not forget that they are children who need help identifying and managing their emotions, which can sometimes overwhelm them and cause anxiety.

It’s important for families to agree with the school on guidelines that support the child and are conducive to their personal, academic and relational development, López explains. Working as a team so that children are motivated to face their everyday challenges in the classroom will positively impact their development; these efforts will take these students’ intellectual, personal and emotional abilities into account. The fact that gifted children have high IQs does not mean that they all receive good grades or are high achievers. In fact, there’s a high percentage of failure at school among gifted children.

The families of gifted children should prioritize ensuring that differences always enrich – and never hinder– their sons and daughters. As Dr. Javier Tourón says: “Uncultivated talent is lost. *

Sonia López is a teacher, educational psychologist and educational outreach specialist as well as the mother of two teenagers.

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