How to tell if your child is gifted

We talk to Dr Fang Ning, an educator trained in gifted education and psychology, about how we can nurture our children’s gifts.

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How do you tell if a child is gifted?

Dr Fang Ning: We could identify gifted children simply by using IQ tests, but unfortunately some might not be identified this way.

Research shows that IQ is not a static number, and it can be further improved to some extent with proper exposure and guidance. We have quite a number of students at our Gifted & Talented Education centre (Gate centre) who have IQs that were improved by 10 to 20 points (say, from 125 to 145) within a period of two to three years with enriched exposure and growth mindset.

Therefore, the IQ test results are not reliable for kids aged below nine. Also, a few top students at our Gate centre — who have been selected for Singapore Gifted Education programme, American School Gifted programmes, Johns Hopkins Centre for Talented Youth programme — do not have a formal IQ test report, but were spotted by our experienced educators over the years.

Researchers have discovered that gifted children tend to show similar patterns of development and behave in certain characteristic and recognisable ways, even at a much younger age.

For example, many of them learned to talk much earlier, or showed a longer attention span than peers of similar age, and they were also exceptionally curious and alert and keen to know “how” and “why” of things.

IQ tests are not constructed to measure creativity, imagination or other talents in music or arts and so on. The best assessment is still the observation over time by experienced teachers in gifted education…

Other than doing tests in IQ and so on, are there other ways for parents to know if their child is gifted?

Dr Fang:
IQ tests are designed to measure various levels of thinking and reasoning ability. Gifted kids are good at mastering abstract concepts and ideas and applying it appropriately in a logical way, and therefore they tend to score higher in IQ tests.

However, IQ tests are not constructed to measure creativity, imagination or other talents in music or arts and so on.

The best assessment [of who might be “gifted”] is still the observation over time by experienced teachers in gifted education or teachers who have received training in gifted education. Actually, we believe that constant observation and evaluation by trained gifted-education teachers is more accurate than the snapshot IQ report.

We read that psychologists found that IQ isn’t the only thing separating the successful from those who struggle — “grit” is touted as a better predictor of success. What are your experiences in that, and how do you encourage “grittiness”?

Dr Fang: At our Gate centre (gifted and talented education), part of our curriculum is pitched above the current ability level of the kids. Therefore, kids will developed the “grit” attitude to conquer the “problems” beyond their comfort zone.

You should also put your gifted kids in right groups, so they will find true peers. At our centre, we group the gifted and high-ability learners together, to inspire each other and create a “grit” culture.

And of course, you should let the right educators who understand gifted kids nurture yours.

Are there signs to look out for? Yes…


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What are the signs parents should look out for to know that their child is gifted, not only in terms of math and science but musically, artistically and in other fields?

Dr Fang:
Children with exceptional abilities often (but NOT ALWAYS) show some of these qualities:

• Learn to read earlier than average, with better comprehension of shades of meaning.
• Display a high level of curiosity, take less for granted, seek to know the “how” and “why” of things.
• Are better at handling abstract ideas.
• Have a vivid imagination.
• Ask interesting/difficult/unexpected questions.
• Are persistent in seeking answers.
• Are keen observers, with an eye for detail.
• Are sensitive to aesthetic qualities.
• Show effortless skill in music and will often have perfect pitch.
• Can be sensitive (feelings hurt easily).
• Are concerned with justice, fairness, and are morally sensitive.
• Are perfectionists, have high expectations of themselves and of others.
• Have a highly developed, often very sophisticated, sense of humour.

From what age will children start showing these signs?

Dr Fang:
Many of them start showing these signs at very early age, some as young as 2 years old.

Expose your child to [more than] academic subjects, music — sports as well as activities for character building, which will help them to become well-rounded individuals.

What should a parent do after knowing that their child is gifted?

Dr Fang: They need exposure, exposure and exposure.

1) Expose your child to a variety of reading materials. Reading is the key step to start self-learning, and most gifted children are proficient in self-learning.
2) Expose your child to enrichment courses, which are designed for advanced learners. Most of such courses will focus on conceptual-level learning, with critical-thinking skills integrated in depth within the lessons. Try to stay away from too much multimedia exposure so that their creativity, imagination and concentration levels are not eroded.
3) Expose your child to [more than] academic subjects, music — sports as well as activities for character building, which will help them to become well-rounded individuals.

What should a parent NOT do after finding out that their child is gifted?

Dr Fang:
We understand that parents are usually excited after they find out that their children are gifted. But we suggest not talking too much about how smart these children are in front of them.

A survey conducted by Columbia University showed that 85 per cent of American parents think that, as supportive parents, it’s important to tell their children that they are smart. But research strongly suggests that it might be the other way around.

Giving children the label of “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be demotivating them! Emphasising natural intelligence takes it out of your children’s control and makes them feel helpless when facing challenging problems.

Parents should focus more on helping them build up other important parts of their character, such as perseverance, grit, team work and spirit!

Dr Fang Ning is an expert in educational psychology and gifted education practice, who co-founded Gifted and Talented Education.

Photo: iStock


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