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Tips for Parents: How Level of Giftedness, Gender, and Personality Affect School Behavior and Learning

Gifted Parenting and Strategies
This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Deborah Ruf, who provides a step-by-step guide for parents to assess their children’s level and profile of giftedness, how they learn and view the process of learning, and how their children’s gender impacts the effect of planning for their children’s best educational placement.

Author: Ruf, D.
Publisher: Davidson Institute for Talent Development
Year: 2007

Just as grouping children by age for instruction makes as little pedagogical sense as grouping them by height, assuming boys and girls learn equally well under the same conditions ignores clear-cut biological differences between the sexes that leads to problems for each.

Parents of gifted children need to know—and consider—their children’s level and profile of giftedness, how they learn and view the process of learning, and how their children’s gender impacts the effect of planning for their children’s best educational placement.

I. The first step is to figure out your own children’s level and profile of intelligence. Although professionally administered individual ability tests are very helpful, early childhood interests and behaviors can be revealing about your children’s true intellectual level and profile when compared to same aged peers. Here is a summary taken from my book, Losing Our Minds: Gifted Children Left Behind (2005):

Here’s an overview of the various levels of giftedness and milestones that are common—but not necessary—to each Level. Here, also, are the numbers at each Level of Giftedness that you are likely to find in an average elementary classroom of 28 children. It is the overall “feel” of where the child fits that tells you the Level.

1. Level One

  • These children show interest in many things before they are even two years old – like colors, saying the numbers in order, and playing simple puzzles.
  • Most of them are good talkers by age three, and by four, many print letters and numbers, recognize simple signs, their name, and know most of alphabet.
  • By the time they are six years old, many read beginner books and type at the computer, and most read chapter books by age seven.
  • It is not unusual to find six to eight Level One children in an average classroom, children who are nearly always a few steps ahead of what the teacher is teaching the whole class.

2. Level Two

  • These bright children love looking at books and being read to, even turning pages without ripping them, by 15 months. Some shout out the name of familiar stores as you drive past.
  • Many of these children know lots of letters by 18 months and colors by 20 months, and between ages three and four, they count small groups of objects, print some letters and numbers, and they very likely drive their parents crazy with all their questions.
  • They’ll sit for what seems like hours as you read advanced level books, especially fiction and fantasy, to them, but they require a bit less of your time by age six, because most of them read for pleasure and information on their own by then.
  • Level Two children can find only one or two others in their classroom who are as advanced as they are, which starts to make it hard to find good friends.

3. Level Three

  • They’re born wide-eyed and alert, looking around the room, reacting to noises, voices, faces.
  • They know what adults are telling or asking them by six months. You say a toy, pet, or another person, and they will look for it.
  • Everything Level Two children do by 15 months, these kids do by 10 to 12 months, and they can get family members to do what they want before they are actually talking.
  • By two years, many like 35+ piece puzzles, memorize favorite books, and know the entire alphabet – in or out of order!
  • By three years old, they talk constantly, and skip count, count backwards, and do simple adding and subtracting because they like to. They love to print letters and numbers, too.
  • They ask you to start easy readers before five years, and many figure out how to multiply. Divide, and do some fractions by six years.
  • Most of these children are a full two to five years beyond grade level by age six and find school too slow.
  • There are one or two Level Three children in every 100 in the average school. They are rarely in the same elementary class and can feel very, very lonely.

4. Level Four

  • Level Four babies love books, someone to read them, and pay attention within a few months of their birth.
  • They are ahead of Level Three children by another 2 to 5 months while less than two years old.
  • They have extensive, complex speaking by two years, and their vocabularies are huge!
  • Most of them read easy readers by 3½ to 4½ years, and then read for information and pleasure by age five, with comprehension for youth and adult level books at about 6 – 6½ years.
  • There are about one per 200 children in the average school. Without special arrangements, they can feel very different from their typical classmates.

5. Level Five

  • Level Fives have talents in every possible area. Everything is sooner and more intense than others Levels.
  • They have favorite TV shows before 6–8 months, pick out letters and numbers by 10-14 months, and enjoy shape sorters before 11 months.
  • They print letters, numbers, words, and their names between 16 – 24 months, and often use anything that is available to form these shapes and figures.
  • They show ability with 35+ piece puzzles by less than 15 months and interest in complex mazes before they are three.
  • Musical, dramatic, and artistic aptitudes usually start showing by 18 months.
  • Most speak with adult-level complexity by age two.
  • At two and three-years-old they ask about how things work, and science – particularly biological and life and death questions – emerge.
  • They understand math concepts and basic math functions before age four.
  • They can play card and board games ages 12 and up by age 3½ to 4.
  • They have high interest in pure facts, almanacs, and dictionaries by age 3½.
  • Most read any level of book by 4¼ to five years.
  • They read six or more years beyond grade level with comprehension by six years and usually hit 12th grade level by age 7 or 8.
  • We know they occur more often than once in a million and regular grade school does not work for them. Levels Three through Five score similarly on ability tests—very high.

II. Another very important aspect to consider when doing educational planning for your gifted children is, “What is their personality like?” Professionally, I require parents to complete the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® and children six or older to complete the Murphy-Meisgeier Type Indicator for Children®. It helps them and it helps me to know how to both parent and educationally guide their gifted children. I recommend books such as Motherstyles: Using Personality Type to Discover Your Parenting Strengths by Janet P. Penley. Here is a summary of what I have learned and observed for the four dichotomies, which are each on a continuum, on these personality profiles:

  • E-I (Extroverted or Introverted): Introverted students are more likely to agree to work alone, take online courses, and leave the classroom for accelerated opportunities than are extroverted students. Extroverted students, although they may find the pace of the class too slow, want so badly to make and be with buddies or friends that they usually refuse to do anything that will make them appear different from their classmates. Practically the only way to give extroverted gifted children curriculum and pacing that is appropriate for them is by placing them in a gifted magnet situation or other form of ability grouping.
  • S-N (Sensing or Intuitive): Sensing students like lists and clear instructions. They tend not to be very theoretical and prefer facts to theories. Sensing students tend to be very literal, don’t mind memorization tasks, have difficulty with reading comprehension, and need to know specifically what is expected of them or they have trouble with classroom assignments and expectations. When they are very highly intelligent, this tendency can lead teachers and parents to think that the child is “pulling their leg” or acting obtuse when he or she doesn’t “get” what you are talking about or telling them to do. Intuitive students tend to be unwilling to memorize, don’t like to show their work (mostly because they intuited how to do it and don’t really know how to show the path they took), and more often want to know why something works than how to do it. For example, in math, rather than memorize, they want to understand so they can recreate later when they need it. More elementary teachers are Sensors and high school and university teachers are intuitives.
  • T-F (Thinker or Feeler): This aspect of the personality shows up most clearly in relationships. Thinker students do better with teachers whom they respect. Once a teacher has lost the gifted Thinker’s respect, there is a clear shift in attitude. Thinkers are likely to do what they have to do to get assignments done, but they won’t go any farther if the assignments seems “stupid” or the teacher has not maintained the student’s respect. Feeler students care about what others think and usually look for win-win results between themselves and others. When a gifted Feeling student is assigned tasks that are below the gifted student’s interests or abilities, the Feeler feels insulted and diminished. The difference here is that the Thinker thinks poorly of the teacher, while the Feeler is hurt by the teacher’s lack of awareness or concern for how the student feels and what the student needs.
  • J-P (Judging or Perceiving): Judging students tend to finish their work no matter how “stupid” they may think it is. If they are also a Feeler (FJ), they often hope that their work will earn them high grades and respect and admiration. If they are a Thinker (TJ) they do their work because it is expedient of them to do so, there are some rewards, and not hassling over it earns them privileges and more time to do what they really want to do. Perceiving students are flexible and open-ended when they study and when they do their assignments. They tend not to finish what no longer interests them, what was perceived by them to be pointless from the beginning, or what they feel they’ve already mastered anyway (years ago!). If they are Thinkers (TP), they quickly assess the situation, and if they determine that those in charge are not up to doing the job well or correctly, they decide on their own which hoops they will bother to jump through. If they are Feelers (FP), they will feel morally violated when asked to do what they sense is wrong, unnecessary, or demeaning for them. When they are threatened with punishment or bad grades, for example, it not only doesn’t work, it builds resentment and anger in the FP student. One way I suggest for parents to know if their gifted child is an FP is to ask them if these words have ever come out of their mouths: “In the amount of time you’ve argued with me, you could have finished this.” One last word on Perceiver children: the gifted children who are brought to specialists such as me are a parent-selected skewed sample. Although estimates of the percent of the US population who are Perceivers is 48%, a consistent 92% of the children who are brought to me for help are P-Perceivers.

III. Political correctness has blurred the very real differences between the ways boys and girls respond to typical classrooms. In my private consultancy, I am constantly reminded that women—mothers—really do need some information on what boys are like and what they need in order to grow into well-adjusted, good men. For starters, I highly recommend the very readable book What Could He Be Thinking: How a Man’s Mind Really Works by Michael Gurian. Here are several of the most important differences that I have noticed:

  • Those familiar with the structure of the brain note that the part that interconnects the two hemispheres of the brain, the corpus callosum, is about 25% on average smaller in males than in females. This seems to lead to males thinking mostly in their left hemispheres while females think across and back and forth with both. As a result, males tend to specialize and focus on what interests them, and gifted boys end up being min-specialists on what interests them by the time they start school. Gifted females tend to be high level generalists and multi-taskers, natural managers. As far as school goes, when such a boy enters the typical same-aged, mixed ability classroom, he looks around and notices that what is being taught, he either already knows or it doesn’t interest him. He is not happy, often acts out or tunes out, and is not very likely, except for some personality types, to go along with the program. The boy, who is usually more active than the girls, too, has all sorts of reasons to get into trouble in the wrong learning environment. The gifted girl, however, looks around, notices she already knows everything, and uses it to her advantage. She can do it quickly and perfectly, her parents and teachers think she is great and give her lots of positive feedback, and she uses the time she’s saved to run the school. The girl doesn’t generally get into any trouble by behaving this way, so no one suspects she is learning to underachieve. The point to be taken here is that gifted girls don’t get their learning, social or emotional needs addressed as often as they should because they are flexible and adapt even when the environment is wrong for them.
  • Make sure you don’t over-diagnose your male gifted children as having learning or behavior problems. The wrong classroom environment and instructional pace, as well as no true soul mates who get his jokes, can make a boy look as though he has ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and more. Furthermore, many highly gifted boys are not likely to understand what it is that the majority of the boys in his class are doing. It is rough and tumble—rather pointless to him—play. He may select the more gentle, intellectual girl as his best friend under such circumstances.
  • Make sure you don’t assume everything is all right with your gifted daughter just because she is getting good grades and not complaining. Girls, as a rule, are so compliant and flexible that they will usually make the best of any situation. But if your very bright daughter is juggling too many activities, it may mean she has too much time on her hands, due to unchallenging work and no need to study, and she will lose her self-confidence and sense that she is smart and capable when she finally encounters work that is truly worthy of her intellectual abilities.

None of these topics is amenable to a quick list of suggestions because they are all quite complex and require some time to learn. But, in order to truly, effectively advocate for your gifted children and be a good parent, too, it is vital that you learn more about these issues.



First of all, why should only mothers understand their sons? There are two parents so why isn't it suggested that the fathers understand their daughters? Oh right, it's always on the mom. Truly psychologys greatest shame, as one blog called it. Secondly I was a girl who had all the boy traits. So much so they didn't even bother testing me for GATE in 4th grade because I was constantly separated from the rest of the class for incessant talking. This is despite being on the honor roll for straight A's with the 'smart kids' and taken out of class to tutor younger kids in math. At that moment I gave up on academics completely. This was the 80s so I was pretty much screwed since girls 'couldn't be ADHD' then. But I do want to say thank you for this list and for using milestones instead of IQ test scores. It's way more helpful for me to use when discussing things with my therapist.


I don’t think the problem with comparing gender differences is about political correctness. I think the problem is stereotyping and overgeneralizing. My son exhibits behaviors you assigned to girls and growing up, I identified with traits you assigned to boys. We’re too quick to put genders in boxes and gifted kids dont need to be put into any more boxes.

Nilda Ortiz

My Grandson is four years old and already knows how to read since he was there

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