All parents know that their children are “special.” Since every child is a unique creature with special talents and capabilities, it’s perfectly appropriate to include your child among those who are extraordinary, especially if they are only children. After all, only children spend an inordinate amount of time with adults. And, congratulations parents, you do a lot to make your only children remarkable. Think of all the hours you spend reading to your child, playing with him, devoting yourself to teaching him about the world. When there is only one child in the house, you can usually find the energy to answer those “urgent” questions: “How do airplanes stay up in the air when we can’t?” and, “Where does the gasoline go after we put it in the tank?” For the parent of an only child, such questions can receive immediate explanations. For the parent with two, three, or four children, they may have to wait until mom or dad rescues a little one from the death grip of a sibling or finishes cleaning up the squash one of the children has artistically smeared on the kitchen wall.
If you are certain that your only child is the next Pablo Picasso or Albert Einstein, and you think that he or she should skip a year of pre-school and toddle right off to kindergarten or go directly from third grade to fifth, you might begin by comparing your observations with the characteristics of “giftedness” identified by educators and psychologists. Then, along with those professionals you can determine the kinds of programs best suited to your child. Because only children spend so much time in the company of adults and are so tuned into adult tastes and behavior, only children tend to be more verbally sophisticated than children with siblings. This can be a charming but misleading quality. A child who is bright and seemingly wise beyond his years, may be identified as an “able” learner. But not all “able” learners are “gifted.” Moreover, not all “gifted” children are “able” learners.
Sheila and Joseph Perino, authors of Parenting the Gifted, have developed a no-nonsense guide to help parents identify and encourage giftedness and talent in their children. They write that, “All children say clever and insightful things. What distinguishes gifted children is that they say them more often, with greater depth, and with more extensive elaboration.” And, of course, it’s not just what children say, but what they do that counts. The Perinos point out that gifted children are particularly adept at linking ideas and then generalizing from them. Very often this ability results in extraordinary performance in school, and such children are then identified as academically talented. Often, but certainly not always, these are the same children who score high (between 130- 180) on standardized IQ tests. But such tests only measure a certain kind of intelligence. There are children who, from very young ages, exhibit extraordinary talents in art, music, sports, dance, writing, etc., yet may not test very well in mathematical reasoning. Their deficiency in math does not mean that they are not gifted in another specific area. Since every parent wants to do the best for his child from the beginning, how can a parent, identify the “gifted” from an early age? Most psychologists agree that some or many of the following characteristics are found in gifted children.
- Gifted children are highly alert and observant
- From their early infancy, gifted children seem totally involved in what goes on around them.
- Your infant may follow your every movement. Sometimes even when you are not looking directly at your child, you can feel his eyes on you.
- Your infant is highly alert and responsive to stimuli.
- Your child walks earlier than most (between 6 and 8 months)
- Gifted children do more than mimic the way adults speak.Verbally gifted children collect words and often use them in original and complex ways.
- Gifted children are often avid collectors. Some collect rocks, minerals, comics, fossils. They like to sort and catalogue.
- Some, but not all, gifted children are early readers.
- Gifted children can become intrigued with counting and invent creative ways to do it.
- Many gifted children seem to possess remarkable memories. They remember things that happened long ago and their memory for detail is excellent.
- If your child is gifted, you may notice that he seems to require less sleep than other children.
- Your child may choose to spend time with older children or adults.
- Gifted children are often idealistic and intense. They may believe from an early age that they have a calling, a destiny to fulfill, and they need to get on with it.
- Gifted children have a sense of humor.
If your only child has at least a few of these characteristics, he could certainly be gifted, and you need to be involved in fostering his academic growth and creativity. You can have your child tested to find out just what his strengths are and then work with your school system to place him in the educational setting that works best for him. What you want to remember at all times is that while you may indeed have a gifted child, you may not have a child who is as emotionally mature as children older than he. Because each child is an individual, you need to carefully assess your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Don’t push your child into social situations that are more than he can handle, and don’t let him languish in rigid academic environments. Provide a home life that fosters creativity, then watch your child’s “gifts,” whatever they are, grow and develop. While it is probably true that giftedness can’t be taught, it certainly can be nurtured and cultivated. And no one can do that better than the devoted parents of an only child.