Q.: I don't want to ask my friends or the doctor about my 29-month-old -- I wouldn't want them to think I was bragging -- but I wonder if my child is gifted or is he just bright?
He could hold a conversation with me or anyone at a very young age.
He remembers things that he saw or did a year ago. He has known his alphabet since he was 1 1/2 years old. I read books to him and he memorizes everything and will sit for quite a while and "read" aloud to himself. He also can spell his name out loud, and tell his age, his birthdate and the town and state that he lives in.
He is fascinated with anything that plugs or runs by batteries -- sweepers, lights, fans, blenders, etc. Any time he gets a new toy he asks where you turn it on and tries to find a switch or a button or the place for the batteries. He wants to know where everything is and how everything works. A friend keeps telling me I should buy books on electronics and leave them around for him to look at or take him someplace to be tested.
I could go on and on, but I know I sound like an overly proud parent -- or overly anxious. Please be open and honest with me.
A: All parents think their children are above average, but your child really is.
A child is put into the "gifted and talented" category if he is extremely creative, athletic or highly dextrous or, like yours, is very, very smart.
Traits vary, but the intellectually gifted child is usually quick to talk and walk and dress himself and may teach himself to read and tell time before first grade. His memory is quite good, his imagination is sparked by an active curiosity and if he sees a problem, he wrestles to find its solution. His interests are intense and varied, his concentration deep and he approaches life with a sense of wonder.
In conversation, a gifted child makes comparisons easily and peppers his speech with whys and wit, which means that he'll often make you laugh just when you're ready to shriek.
As the years go by you'll find his mind goes lickety-split over many -- though not all -- of the tough subjects that the rest of us stagger through. Learning is an addiction, books a great love. With his extra empathy and his perception, he puts information together in original ways. He is not only a critical thinker, but a creative one.
This can be a curse as well as a blessing.
Although the gifted child is often bigger, stronger and better-looking than other children, he may be treated badly at school if his gifts aren't recognized. A harassed teacher may think he's dumb, never knowing that he's lazy or sassy because he's bored with the regular class work.
If the teacher does see his giftedness, however, she may praise him more than other children, which may make them cross with him, or she may expect him to excel in everything, day after day. This is unfair. Even a gifted child finds some subjects harder than others. The teacher also may expect his emotions to be as grown-up as his vocabulary, which won't happen.
Every child has some months or even years when the body, the mind, the psyche and the conscience grow at different rates of speed, but the gifted child will be out of sync until his body and his emotions catch up with his mental age.
It takes a wise parent, and a loving one, to cope with a child on several levels, but you seem to be doing just fine. There's no reason to change your style.
You still will need some guidance to make decisions, for it isn't easy to rear a child who is different, even when the difference is good. Two of the best books are Teaching the Gifted Child by James J. Gallagher (Allyn and Bacon, $25.45) and Gifted Children by Virginia Z. Ehrlich (Spectrum, $6.95).
Eventually, you'll also want to be in touch with other parents of gifted children; the special education office in your state government can tell you how to find a support group.
You don't, however, need to have your child tested until he starts school. The answers are hard to measure at this age and besides, you already know he's bright; you don't need to know how bright unless you want to bask in his glory -- and that's not a good reason.
Nor do you want to give him books on electronics or anything else to smarten him up. You're not trying to rear a child prodigy -- just a child who gets the most out of life.
The best you can do for your child is the same thing you would do for any child (although you'll do more of it and sooner): Introduce new ideas and new adventures to encourage his curiosity; help him live within limits so he'll learn to discipline himself; give him goals he can reach, so he'll know the thrill of success and let him know, every day, that he delights you -- not for his brains or his beauty, but just for being himself.