Parenting A Gifted Toddler

The Destroyer earned his nickname well.

You’re frazzled.  Exhausted, even.  You talk to parents at mommy-and-me classes and you realize that your child is doing things developmentally far beyond what their kids are doing.  You say your kid has a bad night, and they nod their heads in commiseration, but don’t realize what “a bad night” means to you.  Your kid points out the letters on the sign and you don’t cheer them on like other parents because this is normal.  You’ve read every parenting book you can get your hands on and nothing works for your defiant, smart toddler.  Sound familiar?

Welcome to gifted.

Defining giftedness is difficult at this age, but even this young it’s easy to tell that something is different.  In our case, the “different” for the Engineer was negative.  For the Destroyer, it’s a bit more positive.  Still different.  Still wired differently, thinks differently, and learns differently.

You’re probably rejecting the title gifted because that’s only for kids in school, right?  Those smart brainiacs who go to special classes or go to college at 11?  I have a secret to share: those kids were toddlers once.  Don’t you think their parents felt the same way you do?  Frazzled, confused, and exhausted from trying to keep up with their little genius?  Yup, gifted kids are wired differently, and they’re born that way.  The rollercoaster ride starts early.

Parents of gifted children often say things like “even as a baby she was really alert” or “we knew there was something different even when he was an infant.”  Gifted children often meet developmental milestones ahead of time (or behind) because of asynchronous development.  David Farmer’s checklist (and awesome suggestions for teaching a gifted toddler) are a wonderful tool if you’re wondering if your child is gifted.   Dr. Deborah Ruf’s list of gifted preschooler’s characteristics is helpful as well.

Is the Destroyer gifted?

Even with these characteristics and checklists, I hesitate to label my child as gifted.  Or twice exceptional – because if he is gifted, he is also neurodiverse in a way that isn’t positive.  I wouldn’t wish Sensory Processing Disorder or anxiety on anyone, least of all a 2-year-old.  So I hedge my words.  I hesitate over the title gifted.  If I’m being completely honest, I’ll tell you yes, the Destroyer is twice exceptional.

Most 2-year-olds don’t know their entire alphabet before they’re even 2.  They rarely know their colors, and can’t speak in complete paragraphs.  They don’t use sophisticated logic and reasoning, and they don’t make associations between concepts the way that the Destroyer does.  They don’t learn to jump (with both feet off of the floor) at 18 months, and they don’t pedal a trike before they’re even 2.  They certainly don’t throw a ball with such accuracy and hit their sister on the head either.

At 18 months, we started to get concerned about his speech level.  He was clearly using words – many different words strung together in sentences, but we couldn’t understand most of them.  At 2 his pediatrician concurred: it was time to get him evaluated for speech therapy.  We initiated the Early Intervention process and set out to see what exactly was going on.

At the evaluation, I explained my concerns.  I told them that for over 6 months, he had failed to make any progress in articulation and pronunciation.  I explained that this was a huge source of frustration for the Destroyer because he had many concepts and ideas that he wanted to share that he simply couldn’t.

They listened to my concerns, and they listened to the Destroyer.  He sat down with a book and pointed out a few things to the speech therapist.  He chuckled, and told them a long story about it – nothing of which they could understand.  They talked to him and saw that he understood everything they said, but that he couldn’t articulate what he wanted to.

At the end of the evaluation, they looked at me with confusion.  “He meets the baseline of 25 words” they said, and because of that he wasn’t eligible for therapy.  They didn’t understand that for him, 25 words was limiting.  25 words wasn’t enough – he knew so many more.

This is the child that, when his dad asked him to point to the girl in the picture, pointed to the ballerina and said “dancing.”  The kid who pointed to the sailboats tied along the dock and told me “white boats.”  The child who, when I gave him syrup for his pancakes, said “mmmm delicious!”

So what, exactly, do you do with a gifted toddler?

The same things you do with a neurotypical toddler.  You talk to them (in adult words, with adult concepts if appropriate) and you describe everything.  Colors, shapes, what it’s used for, who uses it, how it’s made, and anything else you can think of.  You do a running monologue in the grocery store with occasional pauses for their questions or comments.  You give them the gift of time: time to inspect the ladybug, to investigate the properties of sand, or time to make complex little worlds with cars and Peppa Pig figurines (in our case.)

You answer their “Why?” questions in complete detail – you expand on concepts because they’re not content with simple answers.  You tell them “let’s look it up” when you don’t know, and you show them interesting videos from The Kid Should See This website.  You put Brainpop Jr. on their tablet and let them learn at their own pace.  You do games and puzzles and scavenger hunts.  You read books by the dozens, and become a familiar face to the librarians.

You don’t treat them like babies.  You recognize that despite wearing diapers and needing help with their shoes, they’re smart and capable.  You give them the gift of respect while simultaneously dancing with the role of “do-what-I-say” parent.  You ask them to cooperate instead of forcing them to comply.

And most importantly, you support them.  You recognize that they’re more sensitive than their age-peers.  You understand that their anxiety makes life a scary place sometimes.  You watch for signs of extra “e’s” and offer interventions and therapies if they need them.  You let them read that book that their grandparents think is too big, or you teach them multiplication before they’ve even potty trained.

Life with gifted isn’t exactly easy.  But, I’ve discovered that if you follow your kid’s lead and don’t let societal norms and conventional grades get in your way, your kid will thrive.  They’ll have fun.  They’ll have a love of learning and a spark of independence to go with it.

Hang in there.  You’re not alone – and it’s amazing when you and your child finally find your tribe of other gifted neurodiverse people.  We get it 🙂

Want to read more?  Check out the Gifted Homeschooler’s Forum links and resources for a ton of helpful information about living with gifted and twice exceptional kids. 


  1. Wow just brought me right back to when my twins were small with very little words but comprehension way beyond their years and yes I sounded like a constant drone of information to anyone outside our little group. My daughter added a new dimension when she arrived as she raced to copy them but constantly tried to talk from 6 weeks. All gifted twins 2e and her with her own quirks it made for a different house that matched nobody I knew. And trying to convey it to most people just draws a blank.
    Thank you for sharing and allowing me to look back fondly on those hard days.


  2. I found the labeling of a child the Destroyer a bit repugnant and distracting initially from an otherwise enjoyable and hugely informative narrative. I am a gifted mother (I don’t mind the label, it’s helpful and directive) raising a gifted toddler. Even though I understand the condition and the needs that come with, I am still only one person and can’t keep up with the energy, intense drive to learn, explore, constant chatter of words and sounds that only he understands! And I’m exactly the same! However many of the tools I’ve learnt from being on the ASB have changed not only my life but my sons as I apply them. The ease from the anxiety is just gold ☺


  3. The seven hour screaming fit on the long car ride at age two because she decided to write the alphabet on her etch-a-sketch and her handwriting was not up to her standards.


    • It gets better – promise! The challenges change as they grow, but yeah, it’s rough when they’re little. Thanks for reading!


  4. Thanks for the great post. It’s interesting posts like this that keep me inspired to writing posts for my own blog over at TheAutismDada. I love writing my posts, but get inspired by others. Keep up the good work and I look forward to reading more of your posts.


  5. Thank you for sharing! Our youngest is still struggling with potty training at 4, but had the exact same experience with early intervention evaluations as you described. She had actually lost words starting at 2, but was still above all of the cut-offs for support. She is incredibly mischievous, and will count to 20 easily on her own if she thinks you can’t hear her, but purposefully counts wrong when asked to do so. Also, the bit about asking them to cooperate instead of forcing her to comply is completely spot on for how we need to go about getting anything done!
    Our older child is clearly gifted, but in a less ornery way, and melding our parenting to their unique personalities is a challenge everyday.


    • Ornery is a very good description of my kids too! You’re right, it’s a challenge. And the biggest challenge sometimes is figuring out parenting strategies that work! Thanks for commenting 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.