Did your child walk and talk early? Does she have a brain like a sponge? Scribble magnificently? Love learning? Ask questions that leave you marveling (and scrambling to Google an answer)?
Wow, clearly she's a genius!
Or, um, maybe not.
"Gifted" has become one of the most tossed-about words in the parenting lexicon. Unfortunately -- sorry, but let's get this out of the way right up front -- it's also one of the most misused. The vast majority of children are not gifted. Only 2 to 5 percent of kids fit the bill, by various estimates. Of those, only one in 100 is considered highly gifted. Prodigies (those wunderkinds who read at 2 and go to college at 10) are rarer still -- like one to two in a million. And despite the boom in infant-stimulation techniques, educational DVDs, learning toys, and enrichment classes, those numbers haven't been increasing. You can't build giftedness; it's mostly built in.
Still, it's hard to resist scrutinizing your child for signs of greatness. (Those "signs" in the first paragraph, by the way? Not one guarantees an intellectual giant.) The growing fascination with giftedness is part natural impulse to see our offspring as special, part wanting to be sure a child's needs are met, and maybe a bit of hoping for a competitive edge in the increasingly cutthroat school-admission process -- or bragging rights. "There are no average kids anymore," notes Devra Renner, a clinical social worker and coauthor of Mommy Guilt. "The word 'good' is like the new 'bad.' Why settle for even 'smart' when you could instead call your child 'gifted'?"
True giftedness may be as rare as Einsteins and Mozarts, but the good news is that there's loads you can do to help your child reach her full potential. Even better: Whether young children are truly advanced or happily average (where they have lots of company), in the early years they need pretty much the same things. To raise a happy, emotionally healthy kid, follow these five steps to success: