Preschool Behaviors in Gifted Children
By Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D.
These are general guidelines to help you know if you have a gifted child. Personality type, boy or girl, and the reactions of those around the children can affect how many of these items describe gifted preschool children. The earlier any of the behaviors below occur, the more likely the child is highly to exceptionally gifted.
Birth to 4 months:
• Makes eye contact soon after birth and continues this interaction and awareness of others
• Makes eye contact while nursing
• Does not like to be left in infant seat
• Almost always wants someone in the room interacting with him or her
• Very alert; others notice and comment
4 months to one year:
• Seldom “mouths” toys
• Shows purpose with toys, seldom destructive or arbitrary
• Pays attention when read to or watching TV
• Plays pat-a-cake and peek-a-boo
• Waves bye-bye, says ma-ma, dada, and bye-bye
• Follows directions, knows what’s next in routine
One year to 18 months:
• Obvious interest in competence; has “fits” when not permitted to do it himself (or herself)
• Long attention span
• Obvious interest in letters, numbers, books, and talking
• Surprisingly good eye-hand coordination for shape sorters, putting things in and taking things out
• Uses puzzles and toys that are beyond stated age level
• Does not chew on or tear books
• Tries hard to please; feelings easily hurt
18 months to 2 years:
• Talking, clear understanding of others’ talk
• Knows many letters, colors, and numbers. The brightest gifted children often know how to count and organize by quantities, know many colors and shades, and know the alphabet in order or isolation. This is at their insistence, not parental drill.
• Tenacity; needs to do it own way and not done until they are done
• Not easily distracted from what they want to do; don’t even try tricking them with distraction
• Can sing a song with you, knows all the words and melody
• Clearly exhibits a sense of humor beyond typical “bathroom humor”
• Although active, activity is usually very purposeful and important to the child
• Interest in activities, machinery, and implements that are complex and maybe delicate, e.g., CD player, computer. Can handle them well, if allowed.
• Bossy; quickly lose interest in any children who cannot do what they want to do.
• Grandparents have started to complain that your child is willful and perhaps spoiled.
• Drawing and identifying what they’ve drawn.
• Stacking block towers of 6 blocks or more
• Recognizing basic shapes and pointing them out elsewhere
• Notice beauty in nature
• Attention to the feelings of others
• Need to know “why” before complying
Two to three years:
• Excellent attention for favorite TV or videos
• Shows tremendous interest in printing letters and numbers
• Will catch your mistakes, hold you to your word, and not forget promises or changes of plans.
• Easily frustrated with own lack of ability, seems to obsess on some things
• People outside the family start to comment on how smart your child is
• Child has trouble playing with other children same age, prefers adults or much older children but is not a lot of fun for them because child is still too immature
• Throws fits or tantrums especially when thwarted in doing something his or her own way to completion
• Can play with games, puzzles, and toys that state an age range twice their own or more
• Early reading, e.g. know most store and street signs, recognize many names, labels and words in print
• Most tantrums precipitated by lack of adult respect or understanding; child is more likely to cooperate than simply comply with adult demands
• Highly competitive
Three to four years:
• Highly inquisitive
• Highly talkative
• Increasing interest in books and reading and finding answers there
• Love to debate and reason and argue
• Can do many things on the computer
• May become fearful of what they don’t understand, tend to think ahead and worry
• Show interest in how and why; ask questions and listen to answers unlike most age-mates
• Interested in strategy and application of rules; dismissive and annoyed at others who don’t “get it”
• Cleverly manipulative
• Perfectionistic, even obsessive about developing own skills
Four to five years:
• Many start reading simple books then chapter books almost spontaneously before they are five
• Show interest in mature subjects but can be frightened by their own lack of perspective (e.g., natural disasters are both fascinating and frightening)
• Intuitive grasp of numerical concepts and mathematic reasoning; many can effectively compete with older children and adults in board and card games
• May start to question the meaning of life, their own worth, etc.
• Huge vocabulary, huge memory for facts, events, and information
• Increasingly facility with computers and keyboarding, video games
• Obvious abstract reasoning ability, love of concepts and theorizing; philosophical and speculative
• Great need to engage others in meaningful and intelligent conversation about the things that interest them (the children, not necessarily the adults)
Gifted preschool children tend to initiate their own learning. In fact, it is one hallmark of high intelligence. Although strong parental or preschool involvement and instruction can accelerate a child’s acquisition of academic skills, children at different levels of intelligence will still gain those skills at a noticeably different rate.