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Are There Differences Between “Gifted” and “Bright” Children?

What's the difference between bright and gifted kids?

What's the difference between bright and gifted kids?

Bright vs. Gifted Children

Many parents, including myself, tend to see their children in the best possible light. As the parent of a five-year-old who does quite well at school, I have from time to time wondered if she is just a little ahead for her age or if she is truly gifted.

I have spent some time investigating the traits of gifted children, trying to determine if these characteristics are evident in my daughter or not. I’ve also looked into what you should do to make sure your child gets the stimulation they need if they are really gifted.

After my research, I have determined that she is probably just bright for her age. This article will go over a summary of what I found out, and can hopefully help other parents in the same situation who are wondering if their child is gifted.

Both gifted and bright children are typically high achieving and very smart. According to research, there are some subtle differences between these two groups of learners, however.

Both gifted and bright children are typically high achieving and very smart. According to research, there are some subtle differences between these two groups of learners, however.

What Is Giftedness?

What does it mean when people refer to a child as “gifted”? The National Society for the Gifted and Talented defines giftedness as “children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience, or environment.” (U.S. Department of Education).

Some organizations or school districts may define giftedness in slightly different ways, but in general, a gifted child is one who is significantly advanced in at least one area academically and shows maturity in certain areas beyond their years. In general, they are the kids who are really smart in one or in multiple areas. They may not, however, be advanced in all areas, such as in their emotions or self-regulation abilities.

Traits of a Gifted Child

According to the National Association for Gifted Children, there are certain traits to watch out for when identifying a gifted learner. Not every gifted child will have all of these characteristics, but will have some of them:

  • Large vocabulary and advanced language early on
  • Self-taught reader early on
  • Focused interests, or a wide variety of interests
  • Self-imposed academic goals
  • Aptitude toward solving problems, especially those involving numbers
  • Unusually good memory
  • Catch on to newly taught concepts quickly
  • Sense of morals and justice early on
  • Sensitive emotionally
  • Especially curious
  • Asks lots of questions

Traits of a Bright Child

Bright children are still very smart and often advanced. They are the ones who do well in school and aim to please teachers or authority figures by being successful. They do well because they want to, and they work hard at it—things might not come as naturally to them as they do to gifted children, but they still perform extremely well because of their efforts.

Bright vs. Gifted Children

Bright children tend to do very well in school.

Bright children tend to do very well in school.

The Differences Between “Gifted” and Bright

Although both gifted children and bright children usually are top performers, there are some key differences in identifying them. Below are some of the subtle differences between these two classifications:

  • Bright children work hard to do well; gifted children do well naturally with little effort.
  • Bright children strive to answer questions correctly in order to receive praise; gifted children are more inquisitive and ask more questions.
  • Bright children often learn synchronically or in order; gifted children may have gaps, with extremely high achievement in some areas and not so much in others.
  • Bright children are usually socially on target with their peers; gifted children may feel more comfortable with adults or more mature youth.
  • Bright children are able to handle things like age-appropriate movies; gifted children may become extremely concerned and ask questions about even minutely scary concepts.
  • Bright children enjoy school; gifted children often prefer to learn independently.
  • Bright children will complete an assignment and then move on to a non-academic activity; gifted children will become engrossed for hours in academic activities, often in very specific interest areas.

I Think My Child Is Gifted—What Should I Do Now?

Does your child identify many of the characteristics above that fit the profile of a gifted learner? There are some steps you can take to officially identify them as gifted. Even if you don’t want to go through a formal process, there are also things you can do to make sure your child is intellectually stimulated and continues to progress and be challenged.

At around 2nd grade (sometimes earlier or later), most schools administer the CoGAT test to all students to screen for gifted students. This test is a reasoning assessment with questions similar to what you would see on an IQ test. The CoGAT is usually given over the course of 2–3 hours, which each section or “battery” lasting 30–45 minutes. There are verbal, nonverbal, and quantitative sections on the test.

If your child does well on the CoGAT test at school, a few courses of action may be taken: either the school will do nothing if they have no specific enrichment programs; they may be placed in a more advanced small group within certain subjects with other high scoring classmates, or they may be offered more challenging curriculum in all areas.

It is rare that a school will test an individual apart from the regular group CoGAT testing. Parents can request it, however. You can talk to your school’s psychologist if you would like your child to be tested if they haven’t been tested in a group setting yet. This is only necessary if you feel your child isn’t being challenged enough and is at risk of being bored or becoming stagnant at school.

Apart from testing and the school environment, it is important to offer gifted children support at home. Many will have focused interest in certain areas. The best way to ensure growth is to encourage them to fully explore these interests.

Even if your child does not fit the prototype of “gifted,” but they are pretty well advanced or above grade level, you should still challenge them so they continue to add value in their education. Academic “challenges” at home are ideally interest-led and fun. Certain games, such as tangrams, SET, and Blokus are great for developing special reasoning. Let your child pick books they are interested in when they are practicing reading.

The CoGAT test is often given to elementary students to determine eligibility for gifted and talented programs at school.

The CoGAT test is often given to elementary students to determine eligibility for gifted and talented programs at school.

Remember to Let Kids Be Kids

Sometimes, parents of bright or gifted children can get carried away and want to continue pushing their child too much. Truly gifted children will get involved in academic hobbies or projects on their own, and bright children will do just fine in school as long as they are challenged appropriately.

If you force too much “work” onto your child, they may eventually grow to loathe it and will stop progressing. Try to keep any “extra” work fun and offer appropriate praise and rewards when necessary. Give kids plenty of time for free play and exploration, regardless of their intelligence or gifted level.

Be Proud of Your Child, Regardless of Their Ability

While there is plenty of research suggesting differences between "gifted" and "bright" kids, there are also lots of experts who discourage against even making this distinction.

Regardless of how kids do on any assessment of giftedness, you should be proud of their achievements. The important thing is to make sure every child is growing and adding value to their education, whatever their level may be.

This guide does not reflect my personal opinions about gifted students being better than bright students or vice versa but rather answers to questions other parents like myself might have when hearing these terms and making sure their children have the best opportunities.

The Stigmas of Giftedness

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Larry W Fish from Raleigh on April 03, 2018:

A very interesting read, Megan. I never thought of differences between bright and gifted children. However, now I can see the differences.