Celebrating the Gifts That Make Every Child Unique and Talented

story bMary Ellen Phipps, MPH, RDN, LD of Milk & Honey Nutrition.

Growing up, I liked sports. I even played all the way through high school. But then again, at a private school, with a graduating class of only 74 kids, it was pretty easy to make the team. Show up, and you were almost guaranteed a spot. So, I wasn’t super athletic or anything. I just kind of thought that’s what I was supposed to do. And I was a wee bit of an over-achiever. 

In fact, my preferred activity was school. Yes. You read that correctly. I loved school. I was that girl. I loved the notebooks, the binders, the books, the study guides. It was just my thing. I got straight A's, graduated second in my class in high school, and then summa cum laude in college. And yes, I was one of those annoying kids, who didn’t really have to study all that much. (It’s ok, go ahead… roll your eyes… I’d roll my eyes at myself if I could.)

I grew up with this notion of “success”… getting good grades, not getting in trouble, checking off all the extra-curricular activities, being in all the “gifted & talented,” AP, and advanced classes that I could. Those things all meant I was “successful.” And anything less than that just wasn’t enough. But fast forward 10 years…

… and, now I have two daughters, ages 4 and 2. They both started preschool around 18 months. As a type-A, kinda nerdy, academically inclined mama, I wanted them to get a “head start” if you will. (And let’s be real, mama needs a break sometimes too.) I thought by enrolling them in preschool from the get-go, I was setting them up to be one step ahead of other kids.

And my oldest daughter is proving to be just like her mama. From day one, she’s thrived in preschool. Learning letters, numbers, colors, how to write her name like it was nothing…even how to spell little sister’s name before she even turned 4. Made my nerdy, mama heart proud. She loved school so much, that my husband and I even decided to let her go 5 days/week (which, after leaving my full-time job to be home with my girls more, was something I swore I’d never do until Kindergarten). She just loves school. It’s her thing. When asked if we wanted to enroll her in Pre-K, a more academically focused program next year, or continue her in a play-based curriculum in preschool, the answer was obvious… we wanted her in the academic program. That’s where she will thrive best. It’s where she will be successful. It’s where I was successful.

But then there’s my youngest. She could not be more different from her sister. She is wild, fierce, loud, passionate, and 100% all in, in everything she does… and at almost three years old, it’s clear that school will probably NOT be “her thing.”
Getting her first progress report back, and seeing the equivalent of “average” scores across the board was like a punch in the gut. How could she not be “gifted & talented” like her sister? Surely, this was a mistake.

But no, it wasn’t. I was shocked.

Initially, I failed to see that she was learning what she needed to at an age-appropriate pace, yet, my brain instantly started to fear she was falling behind, or wasn’t going to be “smart.” And wouldn’t that mean she wasn’t successful? I let my brain spiral out of control thinking about what this meant, and failed to think about the areas she does excel at. I conformed to society’s idea of “gifted & talented” and thought my daughter just wasn’t measuring up.
But after taking a step back, I started thinking about all the ways she is in fact “gifted & talented”…

  • She crawled at 6 ½ months old and has continued that athletic skill… being stronger, faster, and more energetic than her sister and many of her friends.
  • She loves to sing! Like LOVES it! (Not being the least bit musically inclined myself, this was a shocker to me!) And has a strong interest in musical instruments.
  • She makes everyone smile. Like everyone. You know those people who just radiate joy and happiness, and can make anyone’s mood change, That’s her.

You see? She’s so supremely GIFTED & TALENTED in her own unique ways. Maybe not in the ways I was when I was a kid, and maybe not in the academic sense, but my heavens, she is one gifted kid.

Seeing this stark contrast between my girls’ giftings and preferences has been more of a blessing than I could have ever imagined. It’s forced me to look outside of my own definition of “gifted.” It’s forced me to see each child as a unique precious individual, immune to their mama’s preconceived ideas of what success is. Shouldn’t we consider EVERY child “gifted & talented”? Shouldn’t every child be praised for their UNIQUE skills?

What makes your child gifted & talented?