What are some characteristics of gifted children?

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Answered by: Ellen, An Expert in the Gifted Children - General Category
Many parents initially celebrate small milestones as their children grow, and a common compliment is, "Oh, he is so smart!" Many children are smart and there are varying degrees of "smart." But, when does "smart" make the leap into "gifted?" And what does that mean for your child, and for you?

I always knew my son was "smart." He had an amazing memory, hit those milestones early, had a large vocabulary, and carried on logical conversations at a very young age. Little did I know that being "gifted" also meant that my son displayed many characteristics that would make me want to tear my hair out.

It was not until 2nd grade that my son was identified as eligible for the gifted program at his school, and that label made me nervous. I wanted to know what the process was for identifying a gifted child. One would think that identifying a gifted child would be as easy as looking at test scores. But I came to learn that there are many unique characteristics of gifted children that can make parenting extremely difficult.

Some characteristics of gifted children include logical things, like a natural curiosity and great imagination. Some less-known characteristics that help to identify a gifted child are intensity, impatience, sensitivity, and sloppiness.


Gifted children can become intensely interested in a subject and have difficulty seeing anything else as important. My son has, through the years, fixated on history, animals, archaeology, and mythology. He has most recently embraced fantasy novels and reads them exclusively.

Beyond intensity in interests, gifted children also show a general emotional intensity in many situations. It is not possible to have a small argument with my son...every disagreement is intense. When he was a toddler, my mother suggested he see a psychologist because of the intense battles he had with me. I can already anticipate the day that he has his first girlfriend; I know that he will fall for her with an intensity not appropriate for his age. It will be one of the many challenges of parenting a gifted child.


Gifted children do not like to waste time. It is as though their minds know how much there is to absorb, and they want to absorb it all immediately. My son would come home every day from kindergarten complaining about the lack of learning he was experiencing. In first grade, he was so depressed, I would have to physically drag him out of bed each morning to get him to school. He would reiterate (scream) every morning about how "stupid" school was. And for him, I think it probably was. He knew it was a place to learn, but he wasn't learning anything, or at least anything he felt was valuable. Each year when we review the school supply list, we rejoice at the shrinking number of glue sticks required for that year. This was an indication to him that there would be fewer "crafts" and more "real learning."


When you couple the gifted child's propensity for intensity with his tendency toward sensitivity, you have the makings of a very challenging child. My husband and I have lain awake many nights discussing how to "handle" our son. Parenting a gifted child means making deliberate and carefully considered decisions about nearly everything relating to him, lest he fly off the handle or curl up and bawl. Conversations with or comments made to an average child often go in one ear and out the other, but a gifted child takes everything to heart and often takes everything too personally. He is devastated by every failure and every criticism, and will react by angrily blaming someone else or falling apart and hating himself. Being prepared for these reactions and learning how to work through them without feeding them is critically important.


This characteristic of gifted children can be both frustrating and amusing. Often, gifted children lack some motor skills that can make basic tasks more challenging for them. I was amazed and amused to learn that gifted children often have trouble tying their shoes. At the age of 12, my son continues to struggle with this. He knows how to do it, but he does it so quickly and sloppily that it is often not very effective. His handwriting is very poor, and I still sometimes harp on him about it, especially when he is making errors in math because he can't read his own writing. He does all of his homework so quickly that I interpret it as not trying or not caring.

I am still trying to embrace the fact that this is a tendency for gifted children and not a lack of effort on his part. The most amusing manifestation of his sloppiness is his eating habits. We have found corn in his eyebrows and mashed potatoes in his hair. Imagine how the absent-minded professor would eat dinner...that would be my son. This sloppiness also leads to an overall lack of organization. He is often forgetting homework assignments or losing items. Knowing that this is a characteristic of gifted children, parents can prepare for how to help their children as school, and life, demands that they become more and more responsible for themselves.


Identifying a gifted child is important because, as I have outlined, there are important parenting strategies required. Their "quirkiness" can be misinterpreted as disobedience, depression, or carelessness. If you recognize the characteristics outlined here in your child, I encourage you to make an appointment with your child's teacher or gifted specialist to determine how best to confirm his giftedness and set the proper course of action for being sure his academic and social needs are being met. This will often include testing by the district. Services offered to gifted students vary greatly by district.

Parenting gifted children presents incredible challenges but brings tremendous rewards. While I have lost a lot of sleep worrying about my son, I wouldn't trade him for the world!

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