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Recognizing Gifted Children


Playing with your two-and-a-half year old has become quite an experience. One day you act as though you are king and queen over a great island that is being invaded by sea creatures and you must protect your subjects. The next, you fight off hundreds of strange people from another planet. While children at this age are beginning to make the distinction between fantasy and reality, you can’t help but think that your child’s fantasies are a bit detailed for his age. Although your child may be experimenting with his newfound mental, verbal, and physical abilities, he may also be a gifted child, meaning that he is advanced in a particular area of development. 

General Signs of Gifted Children

We all go through many stages of development in different areas. Generally, development is not uniform in each area. Some children will walk without crawling. Others will talk in full sentences—completely skipping the two-word stage. Because of this unequal development, your child may appear gifted in one area and not in others. Most gifted children exhibit advancement in only one area. In order to differentiate between the normal and advanced development of your child, look for your child to do the following things:

  • Express a lot of creativity.
  • Move toward people and have a positive attitude about others.
  • Invent novel forms of play.
  • Remain calm unless agitated.
  • Appear bossy and controlling of others when things aren’t how they should be.
  • Possess a pleasant personality.
  • Persist in completing something started.
  • Demonstrate selective attention.
  • View mistakes as part of the learning experience.
  • Show an early appearance of a form of intelligence.
  • Become somewhat perfectionistic.
  • Work through problems. Obstacles are seen as challenges, not insurmountable problems.
  • Maintain a high concentration level.

Areas of Development

Gerald Alpern Ph.D. and Thomas Boll Ph.D. have formulated a developmental profile that evaluates children in five areas. In each of these five categories—physical, self-help, social, academic, and communication—the specific ages at which children generally achieve these abilities are included. If your child performs the tasks listed for an older child, he is probably advanced in that area. Alpern and Boll say that while your child may be able to do many of the things listed for older children, it is necessary that he actually does all the things listed to be considered gifted. Reviewing these items may help you in determining if your child is gifted. 


The physical scale measures a child’s physical development by determining his or her abilities with tasks requiring large and small muscle coordination, strength, stamina, flexibility, and sequential control skills. Normal physical development for different ages is listed below.

Children between eighteen months and two-and-a-half years:

  • Ride a three-wheeler using the pedals for at least ten feet and turn wide corners.
  • Alternate feet when going up stairs.
  • Jump with both feet together from an object at least eight inches off the floor such as a step or a box.
  • Copy a straight line with a pencil, crayon, or paintbrush that an adult has drawn.

Children between four and six years:

  • Use a key to lock and unlock a padlock.
  • Make a snowball solid enough to stay together when thrown approximately eight feet.
  • Play hopscotch, hopping on one foot to a marked spot, turning, and hopping to another marked spot without falling.


The self-help scale measures a child’s ability to cope independently with the environment and measures a child’s skills with socialization tasks such as eating, dressing, and working. This scale also evaluates the degree to which a child is capable of responsibly caring for himself and others. 

Children between eighteen months and two-and-a-half years:

  • Take off their own coats without help when the buttons or zippers are undone.
  • Completely feed themselves using fork, spoon, and glass in the correct way.
  • Stay away from dangers, take care not to fall down stairs, and know the dangers of a busy street or broken glass.

Children between four and six years:

  • Use a table knife for putting butter or jam on bread or crackers.
  • Make a sandwich. This includes getting out the correct foods and putting them together.
  • Answer the phone, saying, “Hello,” and let the caller know if the person requested is available to come to the phone. Will also give the correct message.


The social scale measures a child’s interpersonal relationship abilities. Children’s emotional needs for people, as well as their manner in relating to friends, relatives, and various adults, exemplify the skills that measure how children function in the social situation.

Children between eighteen months and two-and-a-half years:

  • Show interest in exploring new places such as a friend’s house or places in their own homes or yards that are unfamiliar. (Eye exploration doesn’t count.)
  • Enjoy helping parents around the house, like putting raked leaves into a basket or setting the table.
  • Show jealousy of attention given to others, especially family members. Jealousy may be displayed as anger, babyish behavior, or noisiness.

Children between four and six years:

  • Ask questions about their own bodies, such as their heartbeat or where the food goes when they eat.
  • Recognize correctly how others feel and say such things as, “You’re angry,” “She’s afraid,” or “He’s mad.”
  • Enjoy activities with friends of own sex, whether it is bike riding, ball throwing, or playing house.


The academic scale measures a child’s intellectual abilities by evaluating three levels: 1) preschool, 2) the development of skills prerequisite to scholastic functioning, and 3) actual academic achievement at school-age levels.

Children between eighteen months and two-and-a-half years:

  • Recognize self in photograph.
  • Group things together by color, size, or form.
  • Use size words (big, large, small, little) often and correctly to describe things.

Children between four and six years:

  • Copy or draw a triangle. Sides don’t necessarily need to be equal but should be close.
  • Offer real word rhymes to simple words such as “tree” or “hat.”
  • Draw a picture of a person that to an adult looks like a person with a head, trunk, arms, and legs.


The communication scale measures a child’s expressive and receptive communication skills with both verbal and non-verbal languages. The child’s use and understanding of spoken, written, and gesture languages are evaluated by this scale.

Children between eighteen months and two-and-a-half years:

  • Identify, not just repeat, at least twenty things when seen in pictures.
  • Put two words together to form sentences, “Daddy car,” “You go,” “Me give.”
  • Repeat parts of nursery rhymes or join in when hearing others say them.

Children between four and six years:

  • Sometimes ask the meaning of a word, then use it in speech.
  • Use logic about cause and effect, often shown by “because” or “since” when arguing. For example, “I should be allowed to watch TV tonight because there isn’t school tomorrow.”
  • Tell stories without pictures to help, such as "The Three Bears" or "Little Red Riding Hood," and include the important parts.


Having a gifted child can be exciting but comes with disadvantages. A common problem with gifted children is that they become perfectionistic. According to Megan Legas, former Assistant Director of Knowledge Gain, an accelerated learning center, children may quit trying because they fear not being able to achieve perfection, which is what they consider acceptable. Mixed in with that fear is the fear that others accept them due to their performance level only and not who they are inside. If their performance level drops, so will their friends. By encouraging your child’s efforts, rather than praising his accomplishments, he will learn to look for self-gratification instead of approval from others.

Your child may also become a social misfit if too much emphasis is placed on her achievements. These accomplishments become more important than relationships with others. Because so much time is spent developing the gifted area, social skills are often overlooked. As a parent, it is vital to provide your child with opportunities for social exposure and to teach your child appropriate behaviors for social situations.

Let your child progress comfortably at a rate that he initiates. Pushing your child to advance too quickly may actually cause damage to your child. Your child’s self-concept may become distorted, and the development in the gifted area may slow down when forced. By expressing love to your child and showing confidence in him, you will raise a smart and happy child.

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