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Gifted Children/Gifted Toddler with Behavioral Issues?

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Question
After struggling with negative behaviors from my 2 1/2 year old daughter for some time, I have decided to delve a little deeper into some of the issues that may be causing such severe behavior.  After a little research and way too much time on Internet, I am beginning to believe my daughter is gifted.  As far as the physical milestones she has been on target or somewhat behind others her age (she was 3 weeks early, by the way) but as far as vocabulary and understanding, she is ahead of the curve.  She has known the entire alphabet for quite some time.  She can recite, verbatim, words on pages of a book just by looking at the pictures, and basically read the book to herself.  She can also read the pages in any order, backwards, etc.  They do not have to be in the proper order for her to know what the page says.  She is good at speaking in full and complete sentences.  For example, she might say "Mommy I want juice in the pink sippy right there.  Not that blue sippy.  That sippy has milk.  It's old."  

My problem is I believe her "giftedness" or whatever you might call it is leading to very troubling and exhausting behavior.  While I know it is expected of a 2 year old to test boundaries, my daughter tests over every little thing you can imagine.  She has to have her stuffed animals in the exactly correct place.  Blankets have to be pulled into an exact square or wrapped just so perfectly or she throws a fit.  She will throw something and then demand that she wants it and tell me to pick it up.  She will hit me (usually not her father or anyone else, just me) on a regular basis when she doesn't get her way.  She has also bitten me and sometimes bites herself, which I am very concerned about.  She screams at the top of her lungs in her carseat when she knows full well I cannot do anything about it while driving.  She will hit her baby brother or throw things at him for no apparent reason other than she walks by and sees him laying there. She hits cats and pulls their tails after being told repeatedly not to.  

I have an appointment with a psychiatrist to help determine if there is a more serious diagnosis I should be aware of, but I am concerned over her intensity over everything and my inability to control or redirect her behavior.  Does this sometimes go along with children in the "gifted" category?

I have tried ignoring tantrums, time out chair, taking things away, bribing (if you take a good nap we'll go to the park, etc.), even spanking.  She knows exactly what she is doing is wrong and that she should not do it.  The only time she seems to "get it" is if she sees me crying after an utterly exhausing and saddening day.  She will come up and give me a hug and say "Sorry mommy.  Don't be sad.  I'll be a good girl."  This just makes me even more sad because she is perfectly aware that her behavior is causing me frustration.  I don't expect her to act like a little adult or even a 5 year old, but I can't get through to her.  I'm at my wits end and I guess any advice you can offer would be helpful at this time.

Answer
Hello,

There's lots of good news for you.  Your daughter is young when you're getting some guidance, that's good.  No parent has all the answers and you know that; that's good.  You're open to new ideas; that's good.  You'll learn some new ways and be firm with yourself and very firm with your daughter, and things will turn around more quickly than you thought possible.

Your daughter's abilities sound advanced.  Formal testing for giftedness starts to become useful about age four to five, so it's a bit early for that. Gifted children often are "intense."  The more intense the child is, the more firm and consistent the parent needs to be.  When the word firm is used, that doesn't mean harsh or angry-sounding.  The more matter-of-fact your voice is, the more your tone is like everyday conversation, the better things will go.  

It helps to think of behavior as lessons to be learned, rather than as a child being good or bad.  Kids need teaching.  They need to be told what they'll be doing, and what behavior is expected of them.  When they are not behaving as they should, they need correction. Some kids will change their behavior right away, others need correction many times before they seem to get the message.  The adult continues to use the conversational, matter-of-fact tone, and both adult and child will do better with the learning process.

First, the adult remembers, "I'm the adult. I make the decisions, I control the schedule, I decide what behavior is expected, I set limits."  It takes advance planning, and knowing what's reasonable to expect from children of different ages, different times of day, their usual schedules and a sense for when your child is getting worn out.

You CAN control her. You CAN redirect her.  You never have to yell or spank.  When your daughter throws something, give her a choice. She picks it up or if you pick it up, it's gone until sometime in the future. If she hits you, put her in her room or somewhere away from people.  You don't have to say a word.  You keep thinking, while you're doing that "I'm the adult. This is a lesson for her." If she bites you, it's the same thing.  You don't have to say a word.  If she's in the car-seat, screaming, let her scream. Why not? It isn't hurting anything.  You don't have to say a word.  Or you can say something that will surprise her. I would say to my kids, "You have a strong voice."  You can scream, too. Say "Screaming sounds like fun. I'll scream too." You don't need to get frustrated or take it personally, ever. If the screaming is making it hard to drive well, pull over to the side or into a parking lot. Stop the car. Don't say a word, or something simple, like "we'll stop until you're done screaming." Say it only once. Continue driving when it's safe.

Take a moment now, while you're reading this. Realize you really don't have to get frustrated. Decide, instead, "I'm the adult.  She's just doing the business of growing up, learning lessons and I'm the teacher. It's just growing up stuff, that's all."

There is an answer you can look up, "Behavioral issues with my possibly gifted child" posted 4/28/12, where you'll find more guidance and a list of resources. That mom was having the same issues with her 3 year old daughter.

Thank you for letting me serve you.  You're welcome to use this site anytime. Your feedback is important.

Gifted Children

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Faith A. Coleman MD

Expertise

No questions are off-limits. My strengths are understanding what questioners are really trying to ask, knowing the right questions to get to useful answers, and putting complicated, subject-specific words and concepts into language accessible to lay-persons. The topic is fascinating and can be surprising, the opposite of what might logically seem expected of giftedness. I am skilled in identifying giftedness at any age, including very early in life.

Experience

Children constitute about one-third of the patients in a Family Medicine practice. I was Director of Children's and Women's Public Health Education Programs with the Northeast Texas Public Health District. I have two highly gifted children, one of whom attended Roeper School, listed first in this site's Sponsored Links. I was the health expert for Roeper's board of directors; I maintain contacts there. I'm on the board of directors of several organizations of which I'm a member. I spent a summer as the Medical Director of a camp for kids with ADD, ADHD, and psychiatric disorders. Editor, Medical Economics Publishing Co. licensure to teach K-12 in Oklahoma, with added qualification in Journalism

Organizations
Champions for Children: Advocacy, resources, quality assessment, for early childhood daycare (Board of Directors). American Academy of Family Physicians. Michigan Academy of Family Physicians Society of Teachers of Family Medicine. READ: Advocacy, education, resources for teaching and encouraging literacy in adults. East Texas Network for Children (Planning Board).

Publications
Journals: Medical Economics, Contemporary OB/Gyn, Diagnostic Medicine. Albuquerque Journal Daily, Tyler Daily News, New Mexico Daily Lobo, New Citizen Weekly, Alpena News, daily.

Education/Credentials
BA, Journalism MD University of New Mexico School of Medicine. Internship, Detroit Medical Center. Family Practice Residency, Top-100 Hospital - Beaumont. Clinical Faculty appointments to three medical schools. Faculty, Family Practice Residency, Detroit area.

Awards and Honors
Two official commendations awarded by United States Army for service and contributions to young soldiers and families. Publishing Internship, Medical Economics Publishing Company. Research Internship, Hastings Institute of Society, Ethics, and the Life Sciences. Woman Medical Student of the Year. Numerous others.

Past/Present Clients
As above in experiences, publications and awards. Many thousands of patient/family encounters.

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