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I'm the father of a 2 years and 4 months old daughter. I can't understand if she's gifted or just very bright. We live in Italy, where giftedness is not recognized by law and there are no special programs for gifted people. I'm gifted myself and going through school was extremely painful for me. My parents never realized that I was gifted therefore they never took action or did something to help me.

I never failed anything in school but I was always extremely bored and sometimes I skipped entire months and stayed at home instead. This was really painful for me, and I'm afraid that my daughter might experience the same thing. She can do a lot of things, but a the same time we taught her all of that and we spend a lot of time with her just playing, talking, reading or teaching something.

  • She can read about 100 words and the amount of words she's learning grows at an exponential rate (We actually measure this).
  • She can count up to 10 both in Italian and English and she can do simple arithmetics.
  • She can understand both Italian and English with ease, she only has troubles with abstract things like the idea of space, but after a little while she even got that.
  • She's pretty good with puzzles and problem solving in general. She can type words with a computer and use a mouse with some patience.

I understand that all of this stuff is what a gifted kid can do BUT, and I can't stress this enough, we spend A LOT of time with her. I don't get if she's just very good at learning (and she usually enjoys that) or if there's some kind of internal process that actually gives her additional insights on the world. Here in Italy we have no possibility to test her, I'm trying to create some metrics to understand that, but I feel like I'm a little biased (I feel that she's not gifted). My issue is that being gifted is not necessarily different from having a problem. Gifted kids need a specific treatment and because of the lack of support here in Italy it is crucial to me to understand that. I'm not worried about her being successful or anything else, that is not the reason why I need to understand this! So, if she's bright I'm ok, if she's gifted I need to find a way to help her.

What can I do to better understand the situation? How can I help her if she's gifted for real?

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    I'm a bit curious what the difference between "bright" and "gifted" is (or more specifically, why you are worried about it)? I don't know that I've ever found a bright line between the two or even know what the difference is. – Joe Apr 14 '15 at 15:22
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    One thing to be aware of is that early learning does not necessarily mean your child is 'smarter' than other children. If she's still an order of magnitude above the other children when she's 8~9, that might be more telling. – Jared Smith Apr 14 '15 at 18:54
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    Not an answer - the label isn't important, and the answers are very helpful. I only have advice: Please, please, do not ever praise your child for being intelligent or gifted. It will turn and bite you (her/him) in the end. Praise your daughter for her effort, for her thoughtful approach, for her willingness to work if all of these things are true, but do not tell her she should be able to do something because she is very smart. That's not an incentive; in fact it routinely backfires. – anongoodnurse Apr 14 '15 at 22:35
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    Great question, I struggled the same as you mentioned throughout school because my parents were unwilling to let me skip grades. Even taking the most advanced courses that were available were too easy and I just stopped caring, Never having to try or deal with failure just made me bored and angry with school, and eventually I just stopped doing all work because I gained no benefit from it. Even today, I find it hard to commit mental effort to something, as I never learned to in school. It's great that you have the forethought to make sure your daughter is challenged. – Kik Apr 15 '15 at 14:50
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    The label may not be important, however if you want your child to be recognised as needing extra attention within the school environment (e.g. acceleration in some subjects, tolerance of some behaviours that might otherwise be seen as negative) then it may be worth having her professionally assessed if only to cater to the 'system'. It certainly helped us with our daughter. The 'system' needed 'proof', because the teaching staff weren't equipped to understand without it. Sad but true. Apart from that there are some wonderful answers below. – PKCLsoft Apr 16 '15 at 1:55

12 Answers 12

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It's most likely too early to tell. If you could tell, it would depend greatly on how she is learning the things she knows. Children's brains at that age have an extraordinary capacity for repeating things they observe, but mere remembering and repetition doesn't mean true understanding is happening.

For example, if she is learning to read new words from you repeatedly pointing to the words while speaking them, then she says them, and after a while she remembers them, that's not a sign of giftedness. If she is learning new words without you training her on them, just being read to, it might be.

Repeating the trained sums of 1+1 and 2+1 isn't a sign of giftedness. If she infers from those facts what the sum of 3+1 is, it might be.

In other words, you need to determine whether you have been training her, or whether she is directing her own learning and coming to her own conclusions. Most people consider it near impossible to determine at all until school age, with many educators arguing it's still too difficult until around age 8.

However, I would caution you against this idea that a "merely" bright child wouldn't need special consideration regarding her education. Modern school systems tend to treat children very homogeneously, and I think all children can benefit from individualized consideration. Without it, whatever head start you have given her at home is likely to be completely erased within a couple years.

Even children of average intelligence can excel by being given the same sorts of opportunities normally reserved for gifted programs, such as autonomy in choosing topics of study they are passionate about, and being given the freedom and support to explore them. Look at the Sudbury Valley School for an excellent example. I've seen it in my own son, who is of average intelligence, but he was so stifled and bored at school that he literally cried the last couple hours most days. He is now thriving in his learning at home.

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(I'm going to focus on how to help her, rather than determining if she's gifted according to an external set of criteria.) Whether your daughter is considered "gifted" according to the person/methodology used to test this, go ahead & TREAT her as if she's gifted. In other words, do what you're doing now: spend time with her, help her find things she wants to learn about and focus on, and try to make her educational experience as fulfilling as possible. This will likely mean finding activities at home to further what she learns in school, along with other focuses that are completely separate from school.

Luckily, we live in an age where these resources can be more easily attained than 20 or 30 years ago (I grew up in the US and was part of a nascent gifted program, but it didn't do much for me; if it weren't for my parents, who encouraged the voracious reading I did, and gave me other things to learn about and develop outside of school, I'd've gone nuts from the boredom). So use the internet to find age-appropriate activities for learning opportunities, and guide her in how to pursue a field of interest and learn more about it. If you can find a forum with parents with similarly-gifted children, join in and discuss how they encourage their kids to develop their interests.

Even if she's not considered gifted at this minute by the school system, your encouragement of and participation with her learning could help develop that ability quicker than if she were left to her own devices.

  • Thanks for your kind advice. I'll probably keep doing that, because that's how I like to spend time with my daughter. Despite that I'm not interested in her giftedness because I want to help her to be successful, rather I'd like to help her in dealing with her giftedness. I constantly feel like I should learn something or I'm just asking tons of questions to myself and if I don't try to answer them I feel bad and depressed. During my life I met many people who know a lot and can learn a lot, but emotionally they don't experience my issue. I'm just worried about her. – AndreaB. Apr 14 '15 at 15:46
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    Aren't these things you should be doing with any child regardless of whether somebody considers them "gifted" or even "bright"? – R.. Apr 14 '15 at 17:07
  • @R.. Yes, that was my point, but at the same time if my daughter is just bright I shouldn't worry about anything, if she's gifted than she has specific needs, just like any other kid with a problem. – AndreaB. Apr 14 '15 at 19:33
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    @AndreaB. You should always be worried about the quality of the school you send them to, regardless. There may not be gifted schools, but I'd have to assume that some of them are better than others; do your homework: Sit in on some 'parent days', if you can't get in the door from the line forming outside; that's where you want them (community/parental involvement is much more important than a sign that says 'gifted'). Any parent who cares has a gifted child. – Mazura Apr 14 '15 at 19:47
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    @Mazura - Yes and no on the last point RE: selecting a school. Whilst having to 'compete' against other families all vying for the same school CAN be a sign of the school's quality, it can also just be a 'prestige trap' - a school where the name is more important than the education. Also, what was a good school 10 years ago may not still be a good school now, teachers move on, policies change, budgets are moved around etc. Even if the line is long, you should still do your homework and come to an objective decision – Robotnik Apr 15 '15 at 9:00
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I'm not sure the difference between gifted or not is important to your actual question, which seems to be how to keep your girl learning and wanting to learn. Your primary concern, that she will be bored of school and hate going, happens even with non-gifted students.

Right now, everything she learns is fun - like a game. Learning is "playing", and she loves it. I'm not sure how good the school system is in Italy, but in the U.S. (at least when I was a kid) learning was not "fun" and the teachers didn't even try to make it interesting. Some things have changed since we were children though, you should make an effort at investigating how the public schools in your area actually teach.

I would try to teach her that there is something interesting behind every lesson, then she will push her teachers to teach more, by asking questions and attempting to learn the stuff that makes it interesting.

That being said, in a public school system you don't have a whole lot of control over her classmates or teachers. If it really becomes an issue and you can find a way to afford it, look into private schooling and see if that would fit her better, or maybe even home schooling if you have the time and money. If none of those are available, maybe even regardless if those are available, expand on what she is learning at school with fun ways to apply what she is learning, (which can be a lot harder to do than it seems, especially trying to make the time for it)

edit: Since I see other recommendations in some comments for this, you could also see if skipping grades would put the child more in line with her level of ability and fix her boredom.

Just keep in mind that you shouldn't need to worry about how she will view school just yet. Keep learning fun and continue what you're doing! Later, if you do find that she is bored of school - investigate what the best option would be for her at that time.

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    in the US our educational system tends to tailor to the lowest common denominator -- and in some areas that is very.. very.. ..low. – hownowbrowncow Apr 14 '15 at 19:50
  • Thanks for the answer, It really encourages me! Right now everything is fine, and I shouldn't be afraid of anything, but I also feel that I should always understand stuff before anything bad happens. The school system in Italy is below the average (If you're interested you can look for the OCSA annual report) and every single private school is basically run by clericals, which is not intrinsically bad, they just don't manage their money too well and the school suffer from this attitude. @hownowbrowncow here is the same :( – AndreaB. Apr 14 '15 at 19:54
  • @hownowbrowncow That is a common sentiment about American schooling which I am avoiding on purpose because it would be off-topic ;) Trying to keep an answer that works no matter the region. – DoubleDouble Apr 14 '15 at 20:09
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I was "gifted." By the second grade, I was so bored with school that my teacher thought I was learning disabled! Fortunately, my school principal was wise. She tested me, then immediately skipped me to the next grade, then a few months later transferred me to the hardest teacher (the "mean" teacher, LOL). That helped a lot (for a few years, anyway -- long enough for me to develop coping mechanisms). BUT! If not for that principal.... So, don't tell yourself, "She'll fit in somehow." No. She won't.

To answer your question: Gifted children aren't just smart. They are funny-smart, weird-smart, scary-smart, you-try-to-hide-it-from-the-other-parents-smart. At 1, they hardly ever talk; they just observe. At 2, they have large collections: words, soaps, fruit, rocks, facts. At 3, they are reading, and you didn't purposely teach them. At 4, they not only know every animal in the zoo, but they know "fun facts" about every animal in the zoo. At 5, they will be correcting the docent on every field trip.

Those are just examples. Gifted children will differ. But, if you have a gifted child you won't ask, "Is my child gifted?" You will know. People will tell you. They will say things like, "OMG! I think your 4-year-old is smarter than me!" And you will ask, "What am I going to do with this child?"

  • Thanks for you answer, but people is already telling me that my daughter can do strange stuff and they keep telling me that she's a genius. Also, my parents did not understand my giftedness at all (I had to wait untill university to find out), therefore I wouldn't take for granted that you can recognize a gifted child :) – AndreaB. Apr 15 '15 at 14:52
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    BTW, a little boredom in school won't kill anyone. It is inevitable that some kids will be better than average at some subjects, so they might get bored while the teacher is explaining that subject. What you need to watch for in your daughter (if you send her to regular school) is "tear-her-hair-out" boredom, in every subject (in a child who otherwise seems to be very bright and inquisitive). BTW, people throw around the term "genius" too readily, IMO. I work in a science lab with a bunch of PhDs, and I wouldn't call anyone here a genius (including myself). Mozart was a genius. – dmm Apr 15 '15 at 20:45
  • +1, especially for the last sentence. Speaking from experience... – Stephie Apr 19 '15 at 9:51
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The widely used WAIS intelligence test has a version for children that can be taken from the age of 2 and a half; any professional psychologist should be able to administer this test. Also, if there are no special schools for gifted children in your area, try to find a school that allows bright children to skip a year. It's a simple but apparently effective solution. If only my parents had agreed to this when it was suggested by my teachers (at different ages), it might have spared me from years of boredom and alienation, and saved me a fortune on psychotherapy and medication in adult life.

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I'm the father of a 2 year old and I can't understand if she's gifted or just very bright.

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellectual_giftedness:

There is no generally agreed definition of giftedness for either children or adults, but most school placement decisions and most longitudinal studies over the course of individual lives have been based on IQ in the top 2 percent of the population, that is above IQ 130.

So I wouldn't sweat the difference between "gifted" or "very bright".

Here in Italy we have no possibility to test her, I'm trying to create some metrics to understand that, but I feel like I'm a little biased [...]

Why does it matter that you're in Italy? If there is such a thing as an IQ test for 2-and-a-half-year-olds, you should be able to mail order such a test from anywhere in the world. I'd wait until she's at least 10 and have her do a regular IQ test.

I wouldn't consider childhood IQ tests (or other academic performance prior to tackling high-school algebra and geometry) as indicative of academic potential. High-school algebra and geometry are that are the first true tests for a student. How quickly the student picks these subjects up are the first real indicator of academic potential. Anything before that doesn't actually deal with abstract reasoning, and it's abstract reasoning ability that counts.

Gifted kids need a specific treatment and because of the lack of support here in Italy it is crucial to me to understand that. So, if she's bright I'm ok, if she's gifted I need to find a way to help her.

The terms gifted/bright are pretty much interchangeable. The reason bright students should not be in "regular" school is that their progress will be slowed by homework assignments that are calibrated for the progress rate of their peers.

Not all gifted/bright students have such a terrible time in regular school. In fact, I'd say most do quite well.

If you're using the term "gifted" to refer to a bright student who does not adjust well to regular school, that's slightly different. I don't think there would be a way to test that other than simply waiting until the student is in school and determining whether the student is adjusted well.

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    I'd like to upvote most of your answer, but I feel the paragraph starting with "academic performance" could be read the wrong way. There's a huge amount of developmental variance among children between 2 and 10 years, and surely does matter if you wish to help your child grow intellectually at their own optimal pace. Now, you surely are right that you cannot reliably predict a child's future academic performance (or interest) before the age of 10 (and I might argue that you really cannot do so before the age of 20, or maybe 30). But that's not the same thing as saying that it "means nothing". – Ilmari Karonen Apr 15 '15 at 0:07
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    (Similarly, while I agree with you that trying to administer any kind of an IQ test at the age of 2 is undoubtedly silly, it's not really that much more meaningful at any age. Sure, such tests do correlate somewhat with certain kinds of pattern-finding and problem-solving skills, and it might be fun to sit down with your bright child and do one just to see what score you get, but it's not something that you, as a parent, should base any decisions about your child's education on.) – Ilmari Karonen Apr 15 '15 at 0:18
  • @IlmariKaronen Regarding the IQ test, I wasn't saying any parent should base decisions on it. I'm just giving 10 as about the earliest age at which I would expect child IQ tests to start being meaningfully correlated with later, adult IQ. It's not that bright younger children wouldn't show "signs" of intelligence, it's just that it probably wouldn't be possible to measure objectively on a test, which goes to OP's concerns about parental bias. – Atsby Apr 15 '15 at 0:37
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    @Atsby Thanks for your answer, but the difference between a bright and a gifted kid is important. It comes down to how you perceive and how you relate to the world. Gifted kids can have huge behavioral problems for reasons beyond normal comprehension, just like someone with autism. – AndreaB. Apr 15 '15 at 14:48
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    @AndreaB. Well, it seems to me that you're using your either your own definitions, or the definitions of a giftedness subculture there. When you use your own definitions, it is of course going to be hard to objectively test anything, because nobody has conducted statistically valid studies using your definitions. – Atsby Apr 15 '15 at 21:53
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Classifying your daughter seems very important right now, but consider the consequences of that classification. Success from hard work reinforces a work ethic whereas success from intelligence fosters the view that challenges result from the lack of intelligence. Intelligence is an intrinsic property whereas humility, persistence, empathy and kindness are earned and infinitely more important to our long term success. There is nothing more cliche than a gifted jerk.

Keep your daughter appropriately challenged. You will have to get creative about that. Your daughter will experience many unique challenges, and you should absolutely support her through those. Any time we categorize somebody, we choose to ignore their facets that don't conform to our categorization. Don't put anybody in a box, no matter how vaunted.

Every parent should use that advice.

If you treat your daughter like she is gifted, you just foster heartache when she stumbles. We all stumble.

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You may or may not consider me "gifted". I was halfway through the fourth grade curriculum when I finished first grade (I had an awesome first grade teacher who encouraged me to work ahead. My family is still friends with her 18 years later). The school wanted me to skip straight to the fourth grade, but my parents decided to keep me with my age group so I wouldn't get picked on and so I could play sports. I got really frustrated in the following years with how easy everything was. I stopped paying attention and started acting out.

Later in my life I wondered if my parents made the right decision. 18 years later, I love where I am at in life. I'm about to graduate from a good university. I receive several job offers a month. I believe much of my success is because of the social skills I learned while I was bored in school. My only complaint is that I wished that my parents had let me make the choice whether or not to skip grades. They figured I was too young to make such a huge decision but I feel like if they had explained all of the pros and cons and helped me come to a decision, then I wouldn't have wondered so much about how my life would be different if I had skipped grades.

My advice to you is let your daughter choose. Whether she is gifted or not, let her make the choice on how fast she wants to go and what she wants to learn and do your best to help her with the choices that she makes.

  • Thanks for sharing your story with us, I'll probably keep what you say in mind. I believe that this kind of decisions require a lot of commitment therefore I'll ask my daughter how she feels and what she thinks about stuff of this magnitude in the future. – AndreaB. Apr 15 '15 at 14:29
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Considering the link in your comment: http://www.bownet.org/BESGifted/brightvs.htm, what I got from that is not the difference between "gifted" and "bright" but rather the difference between "observant" and "curious".

My brother and I are like this. I am the "curious" type (what you'd call gifted) and my brother is the "observant" type (what you call bright). We're both engineers, both artistically talented in some way and I presume both equally intelligent.

I'd strongly advise you to not differentiate between "gifted" and "bright". Rather, the real thing you should focus on is rate of learning regardless of weather your child is gifted/curious or bright/observant.

It is partly true that gifted/curious people are often bored at school. This is because they often lack patience and don't value repeating a task as much as observant people. This is not always the case though. Generalizing is good for studying societies but almost always fails when applied to individuals.

It is also partly true that observant people are less bored at school. I think this is because they "see" more then the rest of us and can therefore always find something interesting going on with their friends, with how the wood of their desk have worn out through the years, with recognizing that something the teacher is saying is related to something else mentioned two months ago etc. I'm not entirely sure because I haven't experienced this myself.

Maybe it is also because observant people recognize the value of doing a task repetitively. The value of practice.

Both personality types can manifest in children who are slow to learn as well as children who learn very quickly. (Ask almost any kid on this planet and they'll generally tell you school is boring). Which is why I stressed to not worry/care about the personality type but rather focus on the rate at which your child develops.

For slow learners, generally I'd say the personality type does not matter. Public school is generally designed for some defined "average" learning speed so it should work either way.

For fast learners, I think personality type matters.

Curious people tend to not value repetition unless they're really interested in the subject (skateboarding or playing guitar for example). But repetition is key to mastering a subject (instead of merely understanding it). Regardless of talent it has been shown again and again that it takes 10000 hours to master something. The difference is that people who others think are "talented" find practicing fun and therefore reach that 10000 hours of practice quickly. So, if your child finds a subject "boring" ensure that he/she doesn't skip the subject for something more "fun".

Observant people on the other hand tend to like staying within what they already know. This means that they may be a bit slow to advance in a subject but they have a very solid understanding of all previous topic. If your child is like this, encourage him/her to explore the subject further by asking questions. In short, become your child's curiosity. Also point out links from one topic to another he/she has already learned. Sometimes textbooks don't mention them.

There are pros and cons to both personality types. I think a parent's job is to provide balance.

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    Welcome to the site. Good answer, but would benefit from a few more references from your supporting material. – David Boshton Apr 16 '15 at 8:36
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I don't know if this will help but I have a daughter of a very similar age with some similar characteristics.

What strikes me about your daughter is reading and arithmetic. I've certainly not witnessed any children either reading or doing any form of arithmetic at this age.

My daughter is currently 2 years and 5 months, she can:

  • Count from 1 to 10 in English and Dutch
  • She doesn't have the proper concept of what numbers mean - if she sees 4 lions on a page she'll count to a random number
  • She can't read words
  • Sing the ABC song all the way to Z
  • She can sing (slightly mumbled) approximately 30 songs in English / Dutch
  • She can do jigsaw puzzles of 4 pieces entirely on her own but needs help with 6+ pieces
  • She's good at the memory game where you have to turn over two cards to see if they match - on a 4x7 board I'd have to help her at the very beginning to reduce the frustration but she can remember better than I can where cards were

Also bare in mind there's lots of other ways to be gifted - e.g. sports, art etc. I'm busy teaching my daughter football :)

If you want things to inspire your daughter the Suzuki method for learning the Piano / Violin can be started around this age.

Also taking my daughter to a children's ballet performance was eye opening as first she managed to sit through an hour and a half's performance which I never guessed was possible and also it directly inspired her to start imitating the dancing.

I also found an interview with Magnus Carlsen interesting for a fairly absolute definition of 'gifted':

"I wanted to do 50-piece jigsaw puzzles when I was not even two years old"

  • Children have excellent memory. Your daughter has it even better than average – Gangnus Nov 18 '18 at 21:23
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Originally, the definition for childhood IQ was to test the child for various abilities, and then compare it with the scores of the averages of different age groups. The child's mental age would be the age in the population that had the closest average score to the child. Divide the child's mental age by their real age, and multiply by 100.

So you can get a general idea of your child's IQ if you ask yourself whether they are unusually ahead of the average skill level of their age peers.

The 'truly gifted' child then, according to IQ, is the one that has ability far beyond their peers.

A problem, however, is that even if your child has a high IQ now, it won't necessarily have a high IQ later. And since it's relative to the population, it's a difficult-to-understand measure.

But I think that question about labelling your child is actually irrelevant to the real problem you have.

Compulsory education, and especially sending your child to most public schools may cause the same issues you had. But I also think there is a major complicating factor: she is a girl. To give a small idea: boys are more likely to be classified as having attention deficit.

I decided a few years ago that if I have children, I will not send them to public schools, and instead teach them myself, directly or indirectly.

And because we can't all share the same opinions, you have to choose for yourself what you think is best.

  • Just one side note: Probability is very high that IQ remains in the same range (give ot take a few points) during lifetime. Or, as the psychologist specialized in research on gifted children we have worked with over the years once said: "It doesn't go away!". – Stephie Apr 19 '15 at 9:56
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    @Stephie I suggest if you want to really know about the variation of an individual's IQ over time you should read more from more impartial sources than your specialist. For example, scores between different versions or producers of tests will likely move more than a few points. I'd suggest what I think would be a more realistic prediction: people who are 'gifted' 20 year olds will likely continue to be 'gifted' for at least the next 20 years. – Tom Apr 19 '15 at 10:15
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I'd like to help her in dealing with her giftedness.

I can relate. As you discovered, as a child,

a little boredom in school won't kill anyone

is not true. Being chronically bored in school can be excruciating, and the feeling of isolation can be permanently damaging -- hence, the tremendous anxiety you feel, and the loving desire you have to help her avoid suffering the way you did.

Here's what I did: I backed off from teaching academic stuff, and focused on helping my children grow in ways that would not exacerbate the problem. So, my children are trilingual (one language with Mama, one with Papa, and English at school). They can read and write in their two home languages. We did lots of fun things with music and dance, and at 3 1/2, started Suzuki. I took them to puppet shows, children's theater, concerts of all kinds. You can also safely do science with her, because chances are, she won't be doing much science in her early years in school!

Nevertheless, the boredom will hit her in school sooner or later. When that happens, please give the teacher some alternate assignments for your daughter to do when she has finished the stupid worksheets. As long as you do the legwork, and don't ask the teacher to go out and look for more challenging work for your daughter, this should work fine.

Please try to find a nice play group, and help your daughter develop her social side at this time. Her pleasure in interacting with peers will be a strength that will help her face the challenges to come.

  • Trouble for a lot of bright kids is that they never finish the "stupid worksheets" because they are so obviously tedious and stupid, and so they never get to the extension material. – Paul Johnson May 17 '15 at 22:19
  • Good point, @PaulJohnson. In that case, the alternate assignments from home could replace the stupid worksheet. – aparente001 May 18 '15 at 1:25

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