Gifted kids: Signs to look for

If your child seems like they're ahead of others their age – whether developmentally, emotionally, or academically – they may be gifted. To help figure it out, look for these common intellectual, creative, behavioral, social, and emotional signs of gifted children. 

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Is your child bored in school because the work is too easy? Are they reading well beyond the level of other kids their age? If so, you may want to find out whether your child is gifted.

Some children exhibit signs of exceptional ability at a young age, but most aren't recognized as gifted until they begin school.

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So what exactly does it mean to be a gifted child, and how can you tell if your little one fits the criteria?

What is a gifted child?

The National Association for Gifted ChildrenOpens a new window defines giftedness as "students with gifts and talents [who] perform or have the capability to perform – at higher levels compared to others of the same age, experience, and environment in one or more domains."

You may notice that your child is showing signs of giftedness in preschool or elementary school. Giftedness does not look the same in all children. Some kids may be gifted in one subject area or skill, while others may be gifted in many. 

Giftedness goes beyond academics – it impacts every aspect of a child's life. Gifted kids experience emotions differently, often more intensely, than their peers and may have different social needs.

It's hard to estimate the number of gifted children out there, but a general guide is that children performing in the top 10 percent academically would be good candidates to screen for giftedness.

Characteristics of a gifted child

If you're wondering if your child could be gifted, consider some of the common characteristics. Signs your child is gifted can include the following:


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  • Reaches developmental milestones well ahead of their peers
  • Has advanced language development, such as an extensive vocabulary or the ability to speak in sentences much earlier than other children of the same age
  • Has the ability to understand abstract and complex concepts
  • Works and studies independently


  • Has inventive and creative ideas
  • Is quick-witted and has a sharp sense of humor
  • Has a vivid imagination and the ability to fantasize
  • Is independent and unconcerned about social norms
  • Is open to new experiences and has a wide variety of interests


  • Is unusually active
  • Is relentlessly curious and seems to never stop asking questions
  • Can concentrate on one task for long periods of time
  • Is passionate about their interests
  • Is highly determined and perseveres in areas of importance to them
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Social and emotional

  • Experiences intense emotions
  • Is highly sensitive and empathetic to others' feelings
  • Is unusually self-aware and may feel different from other kids their age
  • Can easily get feelings hurt and has a strong need for emotional support
  • Can be idealistic and have a strong sense of justice
  • Has advanced levels of moral judgment
  • Sometimes experiences extreme frustration when having difficulty meeting self-driven or others' expectations

For children under 5, pay particular attention to whether your child exhibits the following characteristics:

  • Unusual alertness in infancy
  • Longer attention span than usual for a child their age
  • Ability to learn quickly
  • Exceptional memory
  • Abstract thinking

Twice exceptional (2E) children

A child can be both gifted and have a learning disability. These children are called "twice exceptional" or "2E." 2E children may have specific learning disabilities, speech and language disorders, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and/or emotional or behavioral disorders.

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For some 2E children, their disability may be recognized but their giftedness undetected. Other children may try to compensate for their learning disability with their talents.

You can support your 2E child by elevating their strengths and talents while supporting their needs. If your child is school-age, be sure to share any observations you make at home with teachers and administrators and collaborate with school staff to figure out the best ways to support your child.

When giftedness is hard to recognize

If your child enjoys school and you feel they're being appropriately challenged and stimulated, there may be no reason to do a formal test to find out whether they're gifted. But if your child complains that school is too easy, seems anxious, or doesn't want to go to school – along with exhibiting other signs of giftedness – you might want to consider having them tested.

Testing isn't the only way to determine whether a child is gifted, but it is a useful measurement tool. With those results in hand, it may be easier to persuade teachers and administrators to make special arrangements for your child.

You can ask to have your child tested at school by contacting their teacher or the administrative staff. Some schools have moved away from testing children for giftedness, so this may not be an option. If that's the case or if your school isn't receptive to your concerns, ask your pediatrician to refer you to a child psychologist who conducts tests for giftedness.

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Giftedness is often overlooked in children from ethnic minority groups and disadvantaged backgrounds, and in those whose native language is not English. If your child falls into any of those categories, consider finding a psychologist who is sensitive to those circumstances.

It's also important to ask your child's teacher to observe your child and look for talents that conventional tests cannot detect. Often, the tests used to assess gifted students are not designed for diverse learners. There are alternative pathways to identifying gifted students, so be prepared to advocate for your child to get them the support they deserve.

Why it's important to support gifted children

Gifted kids have different social and emotional needs than their peers, so it's important to be intentional about getting them the appropriate support. Studies show that not participating in a gifted learning program or spending time with other gifted children can have an adverse effect on a gifted child's development.

Supporting your gifted child can help prevent them from developing anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression, among other problems.

Here are a few ways you can make sure your gifted child gets the necessary support:

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  • Advocate for your child at school.
  • Enroll your child in a gifted learning program.
  • Sign them up for extracurricular activities geared toward gifted children.
  • Join a support group for gifted children and their parents.
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National Association for Gifted Children. Undated. What is Giftedness? a new window [Accessed May 2023]

National Association for Gifted Children. Undated. Frequently Asked Questions about Gifted Education. a new window [Accessed May 2023]

National Association for Gifted Children. Undated. Common Characteristics of Gifted Individuals. a new window [Accessed May 2023]

National Association for Gifted Children. 2019. Key Considerations in Identifying and Supporting Gifted and Talented Learners. a new window [Accessed May 2023] 

National Association for Gifted Children. Undated. Twice-Exceptional Students. a new window [Accessed May 2023]

National Association for Gifted Children. Undated. Traits of Giftedness. a new window [Accessed May 2023]

Davidson Institute. Undated. Gifted Testing and Assessment. a new window [Accessed May 2023]

Davidson Institute. Undated. Social and Emotional Resources. a new window [Accessed May 2023]

Lily Jones

Lily Jones is an educator, writer, and mother. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, two kids, and dog.