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Gifted Toddler? Simple and Smart Strategies to Use Today

Updated: Mar 19, 2023

This is a simple guide for parents and early childhood educators who want to develop their child’s gifts and talents and also want their kids to be happy.

Thank you for choosing my article. I've read a lot of posts about toddlers lately. I noticed many well-meaning folks posting inaccurate or incomplete information. I've also noticed some bright and articulate people in the field of early childhood posting some really good and scholarly articles that parents and early providers don't have the time to read.

That's where I come in! I'm a book nerd who isn't very good at speaking with adults. I usually put my foot in my mouth at least a couple of times during every conversation but my friends and clients are used to me by now.

But I do read everything I can get my hands on about early childhood education and I like to write about it. And here's what makes me different from other early childhood scholars.

I've spent the last 40 or so years applying what I read and learning to communicate with very young children. Real ones, not test subjects in the lab. Not only do I formally and informally study the ins and outs of early childhood education but I also apply the skills I learn as a infant, toddler, preschool teacher and caregiver on a daily basis.

I've given thousands of naps, dealt with biting, served and prepared countless meals. I've taught many young children to read and to enjoy literature. I've even taught some basic algebra to 4-year-olds who showed an interest. I've also taught kids with special challenges.

Over the years, I've taught well over 800 children and I've helped many families with questions they have. One question that I tend to hear over and over again is this one.

"I've noticed that my child seems to be exceptionally smart. What steps should I take now?"

Before you even start thinking about your child in terms of being gifted or super intelligent I want you to realize first, that you’re probably right.

A recent developmental study of 241 profoundly gifted children between 160 and 237+ IQ (Stanford-Binet Form LM) discovered that:

94% were very alert as infants.

94% had a long attention span as an infant or toddler.

91% showed early language development.

60% showed early motor skill development.

48.9% were ambidextrous at some period of their development.

37% had imaginary playmates.

The mean age at which these children spoke their first word was 9 months.

The mean age at which the children sight-read an easy reader was before 4. (Rogers & Silverman, 1997)

Maybe your child is showing some of these traits! Wonderful! Enjoy your child and your child will continue to be enjoyable. Remain interested in your child and they will remain interesting. That's because people are born with "mirror neurons" that help us to learn through observation.

Another thing I want you to do in order to make sure your child's gifts and talents develop properly is to relax.

Stop comparing children with other children and start focusing on doing what you can to help yours. Find out where their strengths lie and use those strengths to support the areas that aren't developing as quickly. That's how we create a more "well-balanced" individual.

Here are the top 6 strategies I've used over the years to support the gifts and talents of the children I'm responsible for.

I inserted a link to a book you might enjoy about the subject. I think it may be out of print but I just ordered a couple of used copies to have on hand for when a parent asks. It's focused on ages 3-6 but you can modify for younger toddlers and get some ideas of what to do next from it. I'm not affiliated, I just love this book!


Have a great time with your child. Rather than "working" on skills. PLAY! more. Explore! It actually works to increase their intelligence.

That's because our brains are wired to learn through PLAY! Allow them large blocks of time to play freely. It helps with communication. The back and forth, right to left movements that are inherent to play enable their brains to make stronger learning connections.

In order to enrich their play experiences even more and introduce a "planning mindset" to children, I use the Plan, Do and Review method featured in the High Scope curriculum.

Put simply this means that I include children in the planning of a fun activity. During the activity, we talk about what we're doing and after the activity, we review what we did. Sometimes we even use pictures, photos and words to help us tell our story. Since fun activities are always of interest to children, they happily participate in the entire process.

Play works to increase intelligence because it's is a multisensory activity. It combines visual, auditory, kinesthetic and other senses to form a completely immersive learning session.

Multisensory activities help the brain form connections between regions. There's a short video from The Center For The Developing Child at Harvard on my homepage that explains.

Growth Mindset

To learn and to connect are an infant’s first goals. Knowing this puts you ahead of most people. Encourage this growth mindset by noticing what they're doing and what they're trying to learn about. Don't rush in to help them though. Talk them through problems and give them the least amount of help when they really need it. Then when they succeed you can notice their efforts with a simple. "You did it!"

It's also important to remember to value their efforts over their abilities. Telling them they're smart won't do half as much good as noticing how much effort they're putting into a project. That's something they actually have control over.

I've noticed that some people who praise their children for what they do, rarely take the time to teach them new skills. It's better for children to feel good about their efforts, rather than receive praise for something they didn't have to work very hard on.


There's a well-documented educational strategy by a theorist named Lev Vygotsky. It's called scaffolding. Scaffolding helps make a good parent or a good teacher into a great one. It's when we take the time to notice where a child is at, and then give them the least amount of help they need in order to master the task at hand.

For example, when my co-teacher and I noticed a 3 year old whining because he couldn't get off of a tire swing, she immediately said, "Don't help him, he'll just keep whining and never learn to do it himself."

She was right about the whining, but I decided to try scaffolding instead of ignoring. It seems more humane and helps the child really learn.

I walked over to the child and offered to help. Instead of using my strength to pull him off the swing, I pointed to his foot. "Once you get your foot over, it's easier to get off.", I said. Then I bumped his foot a little at a time over the tire until he could get it the rest of the way himself.

Problem Solving

If you want your kids to be happy and smart, forget about solving problems for them. It only make more problems in the long run. Taking the time to teach and talking them through difficulties is considered positive support. If you want more information on this subject, I wrote a complete article about problem solving and you can find it here.

Gifted children need boundaries. Sometimes even more than more normally developing

children. Setting appropriate boundaries keeps us all feeling safe. Like a picket fence surrounding a yard filled with creativity, fun and laughter. Feeling safe makes it easier for us to learn.

I recently learned about the difference between rules and limits. Rules are set in stone and refer to basic human behavior. The rules in your home or school might look like this.

Be safe, be kind and be gentle. Limits tend to change over time and can possibly be negotiable. They may include things like table manners because the expectations change by the age of the child. A limit about inside voices may become flexible during a dance party.

Emotional intelligence

Without emotional intelligence, our other intelligences don't matter much. It's impossible to succeed at school, if you can't get along with the teachers or the kids. One easy and fun way to increase your child's emotional and cognitive intelligence is called floortime. It was developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan.

The underlying principle is that emotions spark learning. Floortime honors the circle of communication that takes place between adult and child. It starts with a gesture, a look, a sound, or a word. Then a response that leads to another. The circle continues like a game of catch being played between two highly engaged participants. According to Greenspan, it is the foundation of positive communication and learning.

Grab a beverage and sit down close to one of your children as they play. Quietly watch and eventually ask a few simple questions out of real curiosity. Don't try to teach them anything.

Put aside any judgment you have about their behavior or choices. This is the hard part. We always want to teach them but it's best if every once in a while we let them lead the show. Play is the perfect opportunity for them to try out skills and language freely. Let them. During Floortime, we become their assistants for a while.

Another way to easily increase emotional intelligence is through reading and talking about emotions. I call this laptime.

Laptime is time spent reading or talking about emotions in close physical contact with your child. It's time spent together, looking at books or magazines, reading and speculating how characters, ourselves, or others in the world might feel.

It's also chatting about facial, body, and language expressions that help us know what others are experiencing outside of ourselves. It's based on this premise that all feelings are OK, all actions (and words) are not.

Laptime is a time for questioning and wondering about human interaction in the presence of a non-judgemental and trusted person. It's an awesome way to teach emotions to kids ages 0-8+. And it's information they'll need when it comes to talking about bullies. They'll eventually need to be able to "read" people well in the world they'll be growing up in.

So that's all I have for you today. I hope it helps you see what a great parent/provider you really are. Thanks so much for stopping by!

If you want some support with sharing, cleaning up, tattling, or positive communication

I've got you covered! I'd love to connect with you through my free slideshow on How To Get Kids To Listen Without Yelling Or Time-Outs.

Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.

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