When I listen to some of the things my preschool grandchildren say, I think, Are you really serious? I am tempted to think that they are intellectually gifted and may require advanced education. But young children are verbally precocious and their language is really not a good index of their mental powers. Einstein, for example, did not speak until he was four. Really bright children show their intellectual prowess early and in many different ways, they usually talk and read earlier than most children and have comprehension way beyond their years.
Intellectually gifted children are always seeking out information and new experiences. Parents of intellectually gifted children do not have to worry about providing intellectual stimulation for their children, who are quite able to find it on their own. Indeed, the real problem for parents of very bright children is to make sure they spend enough time developing their social and emotional, as well as their intellectual, skills.
It is also important to distinguish between intellectual giftedness—measured by the IQ—and talent, which is measured by precocity in a special domain such as mathematics, music, or painting. Intellectual giftedness and talent are not highly correlated. Our most talented people are usually not intellectually gifted. Many famous writers, painters, and musicians would probably not be admitted to Mensa, the organization for those with IQs over 150. Contrariwise, the most highly intellectually gifted may not always be successful in life. For both the intellectually gifted and the talented, the realization of their inborn abilities requires motivation as well as sheer ability. Many gifted and talented individuals never realize their potential because of personality limitations.
How parents best handle intellectual giftedness depends upon the child’s level of intellectual ability. For children with IQs considerably above average, like 130 through 140, the best solution is to promote the child one year. This provides the intellectual stimulation the child needs and does not remove the child too far from his or her age group. In addition, it has the advantage, of not stigmatizing the child by placing him or her in a “gifted class.” For children with very high IQs above 160, special schools for gifted children are the best answer. These children are so far beyond their age mates that they may be treated as weird. I recall one gifted second grader when asked to write about the color he liked, wrote about Picasso’s blue period. He was laughed at. Such children really need a school with children at their own level.
For the very talented children, research (Bloom, 1983) with children who attained eminence by the age of forty has provided clear guidelines for parents. In the life histories of all of these talented individuals, parents facilitated their children by providing appropriate materials and positive support but without too much guidance or intervention. All of the participants in the study expressed appreciation for this type of parenting.
We can’t create intellectual giftedness or talents, but once they reveal themselves, we need to do all in our power to help the child fully realize his or her potential.
By Professor David Elkind