1. FORGET ABOUT THE "G" WORD
There's plenty of wishful thinking about giftedness because there's no standard definition of it. Broadly speaking, a gifted child has special abilities in a particular area. The five main ones outlined in a popular 1993 U.S. Department of Education report are intellectual, academic, creative, artistic, and leadership -- none of which is normally associated with the performance of babies and toddlers.
"'Gifted' is often misunderstood," says Julia Roberts, director of the Center for Gifted Studies at Western Kentucky University. "People don't always recognize a gift because they're expecting a prodigy." And parents whose kids are "highly capable" or "advanced" in one area or another may not feel satisfied until somebody official labels it "gifted."
Many parents of kids under 5 look to IQ tests for a number that will "prove" their child's ability. In truth, IQ testing doesn't tell you much before the school years, and even then is generally considered unreliable. Why? Because "giftedness" is typically concentrated in one area and doesn't refer to overall intelligence -- the focus of an IQ test. (If you're going to use it for academic placement -- as many schools do, among numerous other factors -- testing between ages 4 and 9 is optimal.)
2. START WITH THE BASICS
In the first three years of life, all children need to feel a sense of security and attachment. Being held, being loved, and having one's basic needs met are all critical for future learning.
The growing brain next needs stimulation in order to change and develop. One thing it loves: novelty. Every time your baby is exposed to new toys, words, sounds, textures, tastes, smells, faces, and places, she's learning. You don't have to work overtime to make this happen; everything in everyday life is new to a baby.
By late infancy and toddlerhood, some kids do dart way ahead on milestone charts -- and some don't. Whether your kid does or doesn't, experts say, all babies, toddlers, and preschoolers will thrive as long as they are:
- Provided a predictable life with a reasonably ordered environment
- Held and touched often
- Talked to (or sung to) often
- Read to frequently
- Exposed to interesting experiences
- Given many opportunities to learn through play.