Living in the same town as an elite university lends itself to a high population of smart kids. If I had a dollar for every time a parent toured our preschool and let us know that their child was advanced, I would be a wealthy person. We even had parents request to move their child up to an older class for fear that he or she would be bored in the class with same aged peers. And I get it. The pressure to have a "special" kid is out there. Everyone wants their child to be successful and smart. We all want the giftedness and we also want our child to be liked, to be kind, to be well behaved and well regulated. But more often than not, giftedness doesn't come in a neat package.
Truly gifted toddlers and preschoolers are usually difficult. And by that I mean hard, tough behavior and extreme testing with adults. They want more. They are often mouthy, impulsive and manipulative. It almost always gets better with age, but it can be frustrating and exhausting for parents. They ask lots of questions. They may or may not appear to be academically precocious at an early age. They may not care about reading or writing their names.
There is a difference between this type of kid and a typical "smart" kid. Lots of three year olds know letters and letter sounds. Lots of three year olds read. They are bright and will be ready for kindergarten in an academic sense. They may be better regulated and able to listen at an early age. These are the ones who will be in the pressure cooker come high school (more on this in part 2 of this post).
Either sound familiar? If you are a parent who suspects your child is gifted, advanced or anywhere in between, here are a few tips:
*Don't tell your child that he or she is smart and advanced. This means nothing to preschoolers. Your child might associate being smart with a good thing but that's about it. Later, when things don't come easy, your child will wonder why - "I thought they said I was smart. Why isn't this easy?" This just gets the pressure train going and that train will roll until adulthood, so best not get it started.
*Do provide enriching opportunities for your child according to his or her interests. You might think Mandarin classes are in order but if your child isn't into it, it is a waste of time and money. Enrichment classes don't have to be academic or based on a foreign language. Music, art, and movement classes are fantastic. So is playing outside and pretending (no need to over schedule).
*Do set behavioral limits for your child and try not to "over talk" situations. Your sensitive, bright child still needs to behave according to your limits and you are the boss.
*Don't drill academics. It is fine if your child isn't reading early or doing algebra at age 4 (totally normal).
*Do have play dates and social opportunities. Your child needs to know how to get along with others. In fact, this may be the most important step in becoming a successful adult. Put work into this. It will be worth it in the long run.
*Don't explain how bright your child is to others. It will just irritate them and it does your child no good. The people who need to notice (teachers, etc) will notice (promise).
Enjoy your child! Everyone has their strengths. Toddlers and preschoolers are just figuring out who they are. Answer questions, provide enrichment and love your child. The rest will come.
Let Them Fly!