Giftedness: Opening the Gift


Claire was passing through developmental milestones at a faster pace than the baby books indicated. At 6 months of age, Jordan would sit for an hour or more looking through stacks of books with relentless fascination. Maddy gave up her daytime nap by 7 months and was in constant motion when awake. By 2 years of age, Matthew was speaking in complete sentences with a vocabulary far exceeding his age-mates.

When your child doesn’t follow the same developmental patterns as typically maturing children, a mix of worry and wonder can set in. And these feelings can be amplified when the label “gifted” is brought into the mix. So what is giftedness?

There is no single way to define it, but most people can agree with the definition set forth by Dr. Annemarie Roeper:

“Giftedness is a greater awareness, a greater sensitivity, and a greater ability to understand and transform perceptions into intellectual and emotional experiences.”

In other words, giftedness encompasses emotional, as well as cognitive, aspects. And, typically, gifted individuals show higher levels of psychomotor, sensory, emotional, intellectual, and imaginational intensity.

We know that the characteristics of giftedness can be quite diverse; the brain is a multifaceted organ, so giftedness will not look the same in any two children. And even within the same child, the depth and intensity of characteristics of giftedness may vary.

That said, we know that children with both moderate and profound giftedness tend to show early signs of their advanced abilities. These signs may include:

  • Extreme intellectual curiosity;
  • A preference for novelty;
  • A long attention span;
  • Excellent memory;
  • Early onset of language and reading;
  • Precocious understanding of advanced and complex concepts;
  • Rapid and/or deep intellectual processing;
  • Advanced metacognitive ability (i.e., the ability to think about one’s own thinking);
  • Acute perceptive abilities;
  • Intense interests;
  • Strong pattern recognition skills.

Gifted children tend to also display the following social/emotional characteristics:

  • Intense emotional, physical, and/or intellectual sensitivity;
  • Independence and a desire to “do things their own way”;
  • Argumentativeness and/or competitiveness;
  • Tendency to escape into imaginational world;
  • Introversion;
  • Preference for individual, rather than group, work;
  • Tendency to gravitate toward older children or adults rather than to children their own age;
  • Difficulty finding compatible peers.

As this list of traits suggests, giftedness affords children advantages, but it also can cause unique problems. In addition, it reminds us that IQ alone cannot predict success in adulthood; social and emotional factors are also at play and must be addressed in order for a child to flourish.

Overall, giftedness is both exhilarating and challenging, and requires your love, patience, and encouragement to develop fully. As a parent, you can facilitate that development by:

  • Creating a safe space for your child to play, learn, and just be himself or herself.
  • Providing a responsive learning environment that is rich in experiences and encompasses many materials that responds to your child’s unique needs and interests.
  • Allowing your child to explore and select activities that are personally meaningful and stimulating to him/her.
  • Working to better understand your child and his or her strengths and challenges.
  • Continuing to play, learn, and grow yourself.

Everyday life can leave parents feeling overwhelmed and it can be hard to stay in the moment and enjoy the journey. So remember to set aside special time for yourself when scheduling your family’s activities. This recharging will help provide the mental and physical energy required to support you as you explore your child’s educational and developmental journey.


Ann R. Smith is Principal at Gifted Support Center in Menlo Park and serves on the Board of Directors for California Association for the Gifted as Bay Area Region Parent Representative. She provides consultation, assessments, resources and referrals to gifted families. She can be reached at or at 650-238-4400.

Regan Clark Foust, Ph.D., is a Psychoeducational Consultant, Gifted Specialist and serves as Assessment Specialist at Gifted Support Center. She serves on the Board of Directors for California Association for the Gifted as Santa Lucia Region Parent Representative, and Dr. Foust is Data Manager at The Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health. She may be reached at

Image provided by Melissa Miller & Vinnie Fernandez, PAMP’s Lead Photographers and co-owners of C’est Jolie Photography


Clark, B. (2008). Growing up gifted: Developing the potential of children at home and at school (7th ed.). New York: Prentice Hall.

Howard, P. J. (2006). The owner’s manual for the brain (3rd ed.). Austin: Bard Press.

Neihart, M., Reis, S., Robinson, N., Moon, S. (2002). Social and emotional development of gifted children: What do we know? Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Silverman, L. K. (2000) Counseling the gifted and talented. Denver, CO: Love.

Webb, J. T., Gore, J. L., Amend, E. R., & DeVries, A. R. (2007). A parent’s guide to gifted children. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Winner, E. (1996). Gifted children: myths and realities. New York: Basic Books.

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