This feature has been written by Potential Plus (formerly the National Association for Gifted Children, NAGC). Potential Plus is the not-for-profit organisation in the UK that supports parents and carers and the whole family of a gifted and talented child. You can visit the Potential Plus website.

What makes such an exceptional child?

Every child is both unique and exceptional in his or her own way. As a parent you will want the best for your child and to make sure that they grow up to be a happy, well-balanced adult.

Gifted children can be pretty exceptional. The way their brains work, the questions they ask and the way they view the world can be a source of immense pride and pleasure to their parents.

Is it possible to define what giftedness means?

There is no universal agreement about what the term 'gifted' means and its definition can vary from culture to culture and even from school to school.

Many people, for example, identify a gifted child as one with a high intelligence quotient (IQ) normally of about 130 or above depending on the test taken. For example, an IQ score of 132 on the Wecshler test, (which is a common one for children to take in the UK), would mean that they are in the top 2% of the population. This would qualify someone to join British Mensa, the High IQ Society, whose membership is open to anyone who can demonstrate an IQ in the top 2%.

However, focusing on the definition of ability as scoring highly on an IQ test has come under criticism because of issues such as cultural bias and the fact that it doesn't include things like emotional intelligence.

Confusion over the best way to define giftedness makes the identification of a gifted child potentially very controversial.

To help parents explore whether their child could be gifted, Potential Plus has developed a free online tool which can be found at http://www.potentialplusuk.org as well as an assessment service to help parents and carers support their child in the right way.

What is the Government's definition of 'gifted and talented'?

The current Coalition Government is currently reviewing the Department for Education's stance on gifted and talented issues but until it redefines this, the current definition of a gifted and talented child is one with one or more abilities developed significantly ahead of their year group or with the potential to develop these abilities. For more information, visit http://www.education.gov.uk

The characteristics of gifted children

Very often parents are the first to recognise that their child is bright for his or her age, identifying characteristics in their child which are common to many gifted children including:

• Reasons well and learns rapidly

• Has extensive vocabulary and talked early

• Early or avid reader

• Asks lots of questions and learns more quickly than others

• Has a very retentive memory

• Is extremely curious and can concentrate for long periods on subjects of interest

• Perseverant in their interests

• Has a wide general knowledge and interest in the world

• Enjoys problem-solving, often missing out the intermediate stages in an argument and making original connections

• Has an unusual and vivid imagination

• Is intense and shows strong feelings and opinions

• Concerned with justice and fairness

• Has an odd sense of humour

• Sets high standards and is a perfectionist

• Loses interest when asked to do more of the same

• Is sensitive (feelings hurt easily)

• Shows compassion and is morally sensitive

• Has a high degree of energy

• Prefers older companions or adults

• Judgement mature for age at times

• Is a keen observer

• Is highly creative

• Tends to question authority

• Has facility with numbers

• Extremely good at jigsaw puzzles

A child will not possess all of these characteristics but may possess many of them and how they cope with them can have a positive or negative impact on their lives.

The disparity between a gifted child's intellectual and social / emotional needs.

Imagine a gifted eight-year-old boy. He can read and reason like a fifteen-year-old. He wants to have older friends because they are on the same wavelength. He does not want to play the kinds of games other eight-year-olds play because they are boring. He reads Shakespeare and has taken a GCSE in computing early. In addition, he has problems writing down the ideas and concepts he has with hands which have the fine motor skills of a six-year-old. He is therefore misdiagnosed as having a special need rather than being gifted.

Or the ten-year-old girl who is predicted to get 10 As but who spends hours staring at a blank page on the essay she is just about to write because she is so frightened of getting it wrong and failing and she cannot put her feelings into words.

For some, this 'asynchronous' or uneven development is the defining characteristic of a gifted child. For gifted children this is the difference between their intellectual (mental) age versus their chronological or emotional ages where the imbalance in the mental age is higher than the emotional age.

Although this asynchrony can begin to even out when the child reaches their teenage years, the traits and patterns of behaviour which he or she has learnt to cope with it can often be embedded in the way the young person relates to others such as friends, parents and teachers and may become an issue which needs to be addressed.

Are they born this way or can parental upbringing have a significant impact on a child's development?

'Parental engagement in education is twice as predictive of a pupil's academic success as where a family lives, their colour or race, income levels or whether they are working class, middle class or upper class. Where this engagement is intensive it can be ten times more predictive.' (Henderson and Berla, A New Generation of Evidence, 1996).

According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, there are three things a child with high learning potential needs: ability, opportunity and plenty of practice. Your child's ability may be innate. But what they do with that ability is also an important factor.

How you can help your child

All children need support at home and in their learning and a child with high learning potential is no different in this. There are many things that you as a parent can do to help your gifted child to thrive. The list below is not exhaustive:

• Space to make their own contributions in situations that are open ended

• The opportunity to take risks with the possibility of failure in non-threatening and well organised situations

• Contact with other people like them

• Your time

• Activities to challenge them and make them think independently and creatively

• Minimal instruction when possible allowing them to use initiative and problem solving skills

• Opportunities to develop their work in ways they have chosen themselves

• An appreciation that social and emotional maturity does not always equate with intellectual ability (asynchronous development)

• A range of teaching and learning styles

How do parents cope with their exceptional children? Is it a struggle for some and why?

Hear the word gifted and a picture springs to mind: lucky; able; elitist; rich. Some gifted children can be this and more. They sail through school, achieving high marks for everything they do; getting on well with friends and family and encountering few problems with issues such as bullying along the way. Unfortunately, this cannot be said for every gifted child.

Some gifted children are easily bored both at school and home. They can experience difficulties in their relationships with classmates or siblings and can be highly sensitive beyond the norm with things the rest of us may feel are trivial. And the higher their intelligence, the more extreme these issues can often be until, at the highest levels, many children who are gifted may appear at first sight to have a disability such as autism or ADHD. All of these issues can be a real struggle for some parents and carers.

Many parents may not realise that their child could have high learning potential. They may seem badly behaved at school and yet achieve high marks in tests, confusing everyone.

Where parents do believe they have a bright child, the school may not agree, creating tension between the teacher and the parent where there should be a positive relationship.

Many gifted children can cause a real strain on home life whether that is from pursuing their own interests to the point of obsession; to 'always being right' and reducing the parent's confidence that they can support them in the right way; to the boundless energy that they often have or the incessant questioning about facts they want to know.

What support is there for parents and carers?

Potential Plus(opens in a new window) is the not-for-profit organisation in the UK that supports parents and carers and the whole family of a gifted and talented child to provide:

• Information on how best to support a child with high learning potential

• Support for the social, emotional and learning needs of the gifted and talented child or young person

• Activities for children and parents nationally and locally

• Fun and friendship for the whole family