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Some kids' gifts are on display for the world to see. Other children may have hidden talents that masquerade as chattiness, daydreaming, high energy, or even misbehavior.
Below, experts on gifted children tell you how to read the clues to your child's hidden talents and offer advice on how to help her blossom.
Your child loves to sort objects
She pairs up socks, lines up toy cars, or groups items by color, size, or shape. She may also like things to be organized and orderly.
What it may mean: Your child is probably what's known as an auditory sequential learner, meaning she is an analytical thinker, is well organized, and pays attention to details. She may be looking for patterns, often an early indicator of aptitude in math and science, says Linda Powers Leviton, an expert in gifted education.
How to nurture: Explore projects and games that involve patterns and matching, such as beading or Go Fish. Find activities to encourage math skills and experiments to interest a budding scientist.
Put your child in charge of sorting the silverware and organizing the cans in the cupboard. For the collector, hardware stores sell plastic containers with multiple drawers that are perfect for storing small items like shells, rocks, crystals, and whatever else your child wants to count, sort, or classify.
Your child talks nonstop
Your chatty kid may have an advanced vocabulary, concoct elaborate stories, and make few grammatical or pronunciation errors, says Judy Galbraith, author of You Know Your Child Is Gifted When… She may also talk very fast and often doesn't stop until she's asleep. She wants to have the last word and may attempt to wear you down with her arguments.
What it may mean: Verbal proficiency can be an early sign of a gifted kid. It's also key to success in school and many other aspects of life. Kids with the gift of persuasion may someday choose professions such as law or journalism.
How to nurture: Encourage your talkative kid by asking her to dictate stories to you that you can then turn into books for the two of you to read. Interview your child and record her thoughts on a digital recorder or video. Help her write letters to family and friends.
Along with promoting speaking and writing skills, teach her to be a good listener, too.
Visit the library often and find books that challenge your child. She may prefer books with more words and fewer pictures than other kids her age. Listen to her musings and arguments – but set a time limit if your kid is a tireless debater. And build some quiet time into the day, for everyone's sake.
Your child fiddles with everything
She's compelled to explore how things work – she likes to fiddle with buttons and switches. She may pull something apart and then try to figure out how to put it back together. She enjoys building towers with blocks and is fascinated by machines.
What it may mean: Your child is probably a visual-spatial learner. A child who enjoys tinkering may be a future mechanic, engineer, architect, inventor, or scientist. Or she may design anything from a better mousetrap to a state-of-the-art laptop.
How to nurture: Keep your builder supplied with blocks and other construction toys so she can create, break down, and rebuild her own designs. Encourage her to build with empty cereal and tissue boxes, or whatever else she finds around the house.
Visit play centers or playgrounds designed for hands-on exploration. Satisfy her urge to figure out how things work by giving her safe gizmos to play with, such as padlocks and keys or toys with lots of dials and switches. Point out mechanical objects, such as traffic lights, when you're on a stroll.
Keep close watch over your child, as these are the types of kids who will reach for a power tool or try to learn about an electrical socket by sticking a knife into it.
Your child is a daydreamer
She may seem to be off in her own world communing with the pixies. She may enjoy pretend play, spend free time painting, and have lots of ideas to share. She may use things in new and unusual ways (such as shoveling with a shoe or storing things in it), be open to zany ideas, and think of creative ways to solve problems.
What it may mean: Your little visionary may seem unfocused but probably spends her time dreaming up big ideas. This kind of behavior often indicates a strong creative streak, a telltale sign of giftedness. Everyday life may seem boring to this imaginative thinker, who may escape into fantasy and have a tough time separating what's real from what's not.
Down the road, your child may pursue creative vocations like artist, actor, writer, filmmaker, or fashion or interior designer. Or she may make use of her think-outside-the-box brain and problem-solving skills in innovative ways in the arts or sciences.
How to nurture: Encourage your child's creativity, in whatever form it takes. Provide a budding artist with plenty of materials to stretch her imagination. Play music and sing songs. Experiment with science projects.
Take your child to plays and concerts, listen to her fantastic tales, and provide props (and an audience) for her performances. Take advantage of free "family days" at art museums.
But make it clear when you're open to hearing tall tales and stories – and when you need to know the truth.
Your child loves to solve puzzles
She adores puzzles of any kind – jigsaws, a round of "I Spy," riddles, or a mystery story. When solving jigsaws, she's less likely to use trial and error and more likely to place a piece where it belongs on or near her first attempt.
What it may mean: The puzzle master may be a visual-spatial learner. She's likely to think in images and put her talents to use by taking in the whole picture. Down the track she may make a good detective, archeologist, or research scientist.
How to nurture: Keep the puzzles coming, and don't forget shape sorters and other spatial problem-solving toys. Word games, riddles, and mystery stories are good, too.
Your kid is a take-charge type
Your child has strong opinions about how things should be done. She likes to call the shots with games, dramatic play, and most everything else.
What it may mean: This bossy boots may be a natural-born leader, which will serve her well in school, sports, and many other aspects of life. A take-charge child may inspire others, see conflicts from different perspectives, and bring out the best in a team, says Powers Leviton. In the future? Leadership is especially valued in business, politics, community organizing, and mediation.
How to nurture: Whenever you can, let this child lead the way. She may want you to follow her on the hiking trail. Put her in charge of a project at home, like organizing the shoe rack. Let her arrange things in her room the way she likes (within reason). Ask for her help in solving a family problem: "We're always late for swimming. Can you think of anything that would help us be on time?"
Satisfy her need to lead, but make sure she knows you're in charge when it comes to safety and other matters grown-ups need to have the say-so on.
And introduce her to the notion of taking turns, calling the shots, and listening, so she's less likely to alienate playmates.
Your child can't keep still
She likes to do everything on the go – or at least standing up. She enjoys anything where she's moving, touching, feeling, and working her body.
What it may mean: She's likely what's known as a bodily-kinesthetic or physical learner, who absorbs information and is most engaged when activities involve action and movement.
She may take to sports, dance, or music and may have advanced fine-motor skills. She may gravitate toward jobs that aren't deskbound, such as teacher or park ranger. Or she may use her superior hand skills as a chef.
How to nurture: Make sure each day includes lots of time for physical activity. Movers and shakers can get easily bored, so rotate activities to keep things fresh. These children may also enjoy exploring music through movement, so give them the chance to sing and dance. For those who like to use their hands, bring out drawing, painting, beading, and sculpting projects.
It's equally important for this busy child that you establish soothing bedtime rituals. Try a soothing snack, like milk and whole-grain cereal, an hour or two before it's time to sleep, suggests Galbraith. Then follow with a bath, book, and bed. Listening to relaxing music in the dark can also help your antsy child rest.
Your child's talents are still a mystery to you
If you don't see any of these signs in your child, stay open to teasing out her hidden talents. Chances are you'll spot her special gifts over time.
Asking for feedback from other adults in your child's life can give you fresh insights. Your child's preschool teacher may point out her ability at the craft table. Her childcare provider may comment on her agility on the playground. Or maybe Grandpa notices her love of nature.
By noticing the areas where she has natural talent, you can help her be seen, heard, and understood. But your ultimate goal is to love her for who she is while you help her reach her full potential.