the good, the bad, & the ugly of gifted toddlers

Cub:  6 months.  One day, Cub was slowly army crawling and rolling around the floor.  The very next day, he was crawling on hands and knees, pulling himself up to standing, and cruising along any and all furniture.  It took him another year before he started walking independently, though, not because he lacked the skills, exactly, but because he’d accomplished what he needed to.  You could see the gears working behind his eyes.  He was motivated to get to the things he wanted to explore, and since crawling and cruising met the need, why move on to another solution?!

KBear:  2 years, 6 months.  “Mom?  Who here when I wake up?”  “Just you, dad, and Cub.”  “Mom?  What we do?”  “I don’t know.  What do you usually do when it’s just you, dad, and Cub?”  “Panic.”

Chimp:  1 year, 3 months.  He, of course, couldn’t sit still long enough to make it through the 30 minute children’s Christmas service, so we toddled through the hallways together.  We celebrate at my mom’s church each year, so the new building enthralled little Chimp.  He wandered into a room and found something extremely cool . . . a stage that he could climb up and around and on.  A 2-year-old toddled into the room with his dad in tow.  Chimp couldn’t wait to show this new friend the exciting stage.  He said, “come.”  and tried to lead his friend to new adventures.  The 2-year-old, being socially and developmentally typical, had no interest in playing with another child.  He wandered away.  Chimp’s a persistent little monkey though, and he kept trying to engage with the other child with toys and smiles and all the appropriate social tactics.  Didn’t work.  Chimp looked up at me with puzzled eyes and then carried on with life.

This gifted stuff doesn’t start at school age.  Our intensely curious, intensely witty, intensely emotional and intensely creative kids start these things early.  Which, like everything gifted, has its good points and its not-so-good points.

The Good:

Barring any communication issues, our gifted toddlers and preschoolers tend to be able to speak earlier, more clearly, and in more complex structures than their same-age counterparts.  So much easier when the 18-month-old can use words to explain what they want than those who can only point, grunt, and scream!

Then there’s the advanced humor.  Sure, a gifted toddler isn’t going to be engaging in political satire, but they are often able to engage in humor at a more complex level than more typical babes.  For example, Chimp was under a year old when he started his own game of hide and seek with my mom.  She was growing frantic while he quietly stayed still and hidden behind the bathroom door.  When she finally found him, he pointed at her and, with a twinkle in his eye, started laughing. 

The emotional intensity can bring some goodness with it, too.  We might see increased caring and empathy in our little ones at a level that’s beyond their years.  I remember falling asleep on the couch while pregnant with Chimp.  I half awoke when KBear came toddling into the room shouting “mom!”, but as soon as she saw me sleeping, she began tiptoeing, grabbed her blanket, covered me up, kissed me on the forehead, and tiptoed away.


The Bad

Other parents often just don’t relate or understand.  At best, it feels isolating.  At worst, we can feel attacked as other parents assume we must be pushing them to learn these new things.

Even at an early age it’s difficult for our kiddos to find peers.  Chimp was 2 when we went to a homeschool park day.  Cub ran off with some friends and Chimp tried desperately to find kids to play with.  Kids his age weren’t yet capable of interactive imaginary play.  Kids older than him weren’t interested in playing with a “baby.”  It was heartbreaking to watch as he toddled back to me with tears in his eyes because no one would play with him.

Advocating for our child’s learning needs can start early, too.  We had Cub in a childcare center for 3 months.  They had the rooms split up by age.  We knew that he was developmentally about a year or so ahead of the curve, so we asked for him to be placed up with older kids.  Our culture is so enmeshed with the idea of age-based learning and peers that the center just wouldn’t budge.  And so we left.  And started thinking about homeschooling.  After all, if a daycare couldn’t be flexible enough to meet him where he was, we only imagined it would get more difficult when he became school aged.

The negotiating skills.  This is a plus and a minus, I suppose.  It’s amazing to see how their little minds use logic and reason to negotiate like miniature lawyers.  At 2, Cub negotiated his way into an extra piece of cake because his skills just needed to be rewarded in some way!  But, they have to negotiate EVERYTHING.  It.  Is.  Exhausting.


The Ugly

Emotional Intensity.  It’s ugly.  Toddlers are known for their big emotions and emotionally hijacked behaviors.  Gifted toddlers . . . watch out! 

Psychomotor Intensity.  It’s nonstop.  I remember waiting with an 18-month-old Kbear as Cub was finishing something up.  Sitting two rows ahead of me was another mama and her little girl who was exactly 1 month younger than my Kbear.  The little girl was sitting in the chair.  Watching.  She occasionally reached for a cheerio, but otherwise her body was still.  Meanwhile, I was chasing Kbear around the room, trying to get her to sit.  She was up and over and under the chairs.  I was armed with an arsenal of toys and snacks and books, which she devoured for a couple of minutes before moving on to the next thing. 

Often, gifted people just don’t need as much sleep as more typically wired people.  And this also starts early.  So, while other toddlers go home for their afternoon naps, our kiddos might have outgrown their nap before they are a year and a half.  Which means no naps for us parents!  As an introverted mom, breaks and naps are essential for me, but were difficult to come by when I had the inquisitive, non-stop toddlers in my home.  A parent who’s not getting the breaks they need chasing after psychomotorly intense toddlers who have epic emotional outbursts because they wanted the red cup not the blue one?  Ugly.

And even uglier, many of us parents see our kids with their huge emotions, with their inability to simply accept our answers instead of negotiating everything, with their non-stop squirminess, and with other parents not being able to understand and we often perceive a failing on our part.  We assume we’re doing something wrong.  We don’t yet know that our kids are differently wired (though we kinda know from the first day they are born and they lift their heads off our chests to look around the room), so we assume we just aren’t firm enough with them.  We still live in a world where kids are supposed to listen to their parents on the first go and not question authority.  We live in a world where kids are supposed to sit still and be quiet.  Our kids require something different, but we often don’t know that when they’re toddlers.

I’m not going to lie.  I miss the cute pudgy armed hugs and watching the amazing learning and growth that develops in those toddler years.  But I don’t miss them enough to want to go back!  If you’re in the middle of all the good, the bad, and the ugly, take a breath.  This too shall pass.  You are doing a great job.  And some day you’ll be able to look back at all those infuriating times and smile.


This post is part of the monthly bloghop by Gifted Homeschoolers Forum.  For more gifted toddler fun, check out these great articles!