How to Tell if Your Child is Gifted (and What to Do About it)

We all think our kids are super special, but what if they are truly gifted or exceptionally bright? Do you know the signs? 

Gifted and talented children make up around 10 percent of the student population, however often their gift goes undetected. Some gifted kids also misbehave or get misdiagnosed with conditions such as ADHD.

It’s crucial that parents and teachers give gifted children the right support from an early age because if they’re not given the opportunity to thrive, their gift can become more of a burden or curse.

What is a gifted child?

Mum Central spoke to to Stephanie Boyce, Academic Enrichment Co-ordinator at Waverley College in Sydney. She says Françoys Gagné defines giftedness as any student “in possession of untrained and spontaneously expressed superior natural abilities.”

“Being gifted is not limited to academics. Students may display aspects of giftedness across a range of domains including creative thinking, leadership, visual and performing arts, and psychomotor abilities, and will begin to display their natural abilities in these areas from an early age,” she says.

Gifted and talented (GaT) children apparently perform two standard deviations or more above the norm (which is where the majority of students are) on intelligence tests. In other words, if your child is gifted they’ll smash intelligence tests without having received extra assistance to be at that level.

Signs your child might be gifted

You can’t stereotype a gifted child on ability alone. However Stephanie says there are a few common signs that might indicate your child is gifted. For example:

  • Longer attention spans, particularly in a specific area of interest.
  • The ability to learn skills in their area of interest faster, with less practice, than others.
  • Large vocabulary, faster reading pace, and extreme curiosity from a young age.
  • Expressing ideas and discovering the correct answer to problems in an ‘out of the box’ manner.
  • Displaying empathy, leadership abilities and creativity beyond their biological age.

Are they a genius then?

No, not necessarily. According to Stephanie, child geniuses or prodigies are another level altogether.

“GaT is an accelerated or above-average skill level, whereas ‘genius’ refers to an exceptional level of talent. Many gifted children may just display an accelerated or above average skill level if their abilities are not identified,. A genius level is one where the giftedness has been nurtured to reach an exceptional level,” she says.

And child prodigies are apparently very rare. Their form of giftedness is distinct and requires a different approach such as one-on-one coaching and intensive development outside the school curriculum.


Image source: Waverley College

How should you support a gifted child?

Stephanie says that a vital part of supporting gifted and talented children is balancing their perfectionism and intrinsic need to over-achieve with their mental health.

“It is important to remember that their giftedness is linked to their initial interest and passion for an activity or subject,” she says. “When it becomes unenjoyable, this will impact their mental health if they feel forced to excel.”

“Their giftedness should never be prioritised over their general happiness and wellbeing.”

Communication is also crucial, particularly with the school.

“If your child has already been identified as gifted, tell the school and talk to the relevant teachers. If they haven’t been tested or identified, consider booking a session with the school counsellor who can provide you with resources and advice on which professionals to seek depending on your child’s learning needs and talents,” says Stephanie.

She also says that you should provide your child with as many opportunities as possible to discover their passions, including staying up to date with school publications and school holiday programs that offer extra opportunities outside the classroom.

What about special schools?

GaT students don’t NEED to go to a special school, but each child is different. Parents of gifted children may choose to send them to a specialised school, such as a school specialising in performing arts,. Just remember that given the right support and opportunities, a gifted child will thrive in any school.

That’s why Stephanie doesn’t recommend switching schools unless your child is unhappy or unsupported. She says changing schools can be very disruptive.

GaT and extra needs

Some GaT children also have another specific learning need or developmental difficulty. The term for these children is ‘Twice Exceptional’ (2E), meaning there are two more ‘exceptions’ to their learning needs.

‘Exceptions’ may include:

  • Physical: deafness, blindness, cerebral palsy.
  • Emotional: anxiety, depression, ODD, OCD.
  • Specific learning disabilities: dyslexia, auditory processing, sensory deficit.
  • Attention disorders: ADD, ADHD.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Unfortunately Stephanie says that children who are twice exceptional can often presents as ‘average’ . This is because the learning need or difficulty often balances out being gifted. And these students will need extra support on both spectrums: specific strategies to address both the learning difficulty and enrich their giftedness, but not simultaneously.

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Other challenges

The key thing when it comes to gifted children though, says Stephanie, is that they need an opportunity to thrive and to feel safe doing so. Give them opportunities to engage and collaborate with like-minded students. Challenge them so they don’t feel they need to mask their giftedness to fit in.

“It’s also common for many gifted students to misbehave, refuse to do classwork, and engage in anti-social behaviours as a result of feeling they don’t belong, are not challenged, or find no relevance or interest to the work being done in class,” Stephanie says.

“Many students will also purposefully under-achieve to avoid being ostracised by peers. So it’s vital that schools ensure they establish meaningful connections with gifted students and assist them in establishing their identity.”

Other challenges in the school environment include lessons being too short for their level of interest and having different learning styles. Stephanie says that one way schools can address this is to nurture gifted students in streamed classes. Extracurricular programs that challenge your gifted child in different contexts without rigid schedules or timetables are also useful. That way they can explore and develop more extensive knowledge and ideas.

Fitting in with the family

Stephanie also adds that it’s important to remember to nurture all of your children and their interests and abilities, not just your gifted child. Research shows that non-gifted siblings actually benefit from seeing gifted siblings as a role model. But avoid using labels such as ‘the brains’ or ‘the athlete’ to make sure your non-gifted child doesn’t feel inferior or overlooked.

Do you think your child is gifted and talented? Maybe you just want them to master the basics first. If you’re looking for more ways to encourage their literacy skills you might want to check out this fun new reading app.



Avatar of Susan Taylor

Susan is a Sydney based writer and mum of three highly energetic boys who keep her firmly on her toes (and slightly bonkers). When she’s not writing or trying to keep it all together she’s probably reading, watching Netflix or having a sneaky massage.

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