Developmental Ebb and Flow in Gifted Children

Young gifted children don't develop at an even, predictable, rate. They usually experience peaks of extraordinary performance instead of consistently high skill levels of all abilities.

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A gifted child entering school may have acquired academic skills that far exceed those of her peers. She might master the academic content of kindergarten by the time she is three years old. But she still has the physical and social development of other kids her age. She still might not be able to tie her shoes, or hold a pencil and she may still be quite prone to tantrums. Putting her into a higher grade may not be the answer. But if left in the grade-level suited to her age, her advanced intellectual development may well be a frustration to her teacher, an embarrassment to her peers, and a burden to her.

The Illusion of Socialization

The fact that a child needs socialization usually decides the matter. She is left in grade with other children her age and it's assumed she's got nothing to worry about academically. But this reasoning is flawed. It gives a strong signal to the child that school is not for learning. It will result in her being bored and she may in fact not do well at all. This sets her up for feeling like a disappointment to parents and teachers who know what she's capable of.

According to Wendy C. Roedell, Ph.D., senior author of Gifted Young Children, socialization in the first years of school consists largely of being accepted by teachers and peers. If a teacher, realizing that the child has already mastered the material, does not include her in the day to day of the coursework - by calling on her, for example, the child will not feel accepted by the teacher. What's more, when the child makes the additional discovery that she is different from most of her classmates, that communication is hindered by differences in vocabulary and expression, then she'll miss peer acceptance as well.

The first school experience should provide the motive for enthusiasm about learning. For a gifted child in conventional classroom, it can do just the opposite. And it's not hard for a brilliant little mind to hide or deny its abilities in order to fit in better with other children. And more serious behavioral problems (or even psychosomatic symptoms like stomachaches and headaches) can occur.

Varying Rates of Development

A gifted child might learn to read by age 3, or demonstrate advanced spatial reasoning ability, but still may not have the highest IQ or develop language earlier than is normal. A child's development may occur in spurts, according to his interest and to differing opportunities available to him . Reading ability can develop almost overnight, but the early reader may stay at the same reading level until age 4 or 5, then suddenly develop third or fourth grade level reading skills in a very short time.

It's not uncommon to find gifted young children experiencing a gap between advanced intellectual skills and less-advanced physical and emotional competencies. Some 4 and 5-year old children may be able to converse intelligently about abstract concepts or to read fluently at fourth-grade level, yet find it difficult to share toys or hold a pencil.

Often uneven developmental levels can lead to frustration, as children find that their physical skills are not sufficiently developed to allow them to carry out the complex projects they may imagine. Such children may throw tantrums or give up on projects without really trying. Adult guidance can help such children set realistic goals and learn to solve problems effectively even when their efforts don't meet their expectations.

Be Realistic

Adults can be misled by children's advanced verbal abilities or reasoning skills and may expect equally advanced behavior in all areas. It can be unsettling to hold a high-level conversation with a 5 year-old who may then turn around and punch a classmate who stole her pencil. Some age-appropriate social behavior may be interpreted as willful or lazy by parents or teachers whose expectations are too high. The only accurate generalization that can safely be made about intellectually gifted young children is that they will demonstrate their unusual intellectual skills in a variety of ways and that they are all different as regards interests, skill levels, social development, and physical abilities.

Parents often experience fear and confusion when faced with the seemingly erratic development of their gifted child. It's important to get the facts. Not can they give you peace of mind and relief that your child is not in any peril of failure, it will help to understand how you can participate in his education and provide him with the opportunities and environment he needs to thrive.

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