My gifted child is slacking in class, how can I help them to succeed without hindering their mental development or causing them to fail classes?

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Answered by: Michael, An Expert in the Special Education Category
Many parents of gifted children may notice that their child, despite being very intelligent, is having a hard time passing classes in school. This is not because they are having problems comprehending or keeping up with the content. In fact, this is usually the opposite of what is happening. Your gifted child is slacking off in class often as a result of a lack of challenge, which bores the children, and removes all motivation for them to pass the class.

Accelerated learners will feel that the dull homework is not worth their time, since they clearly know how to do it without breaking a sweat. Because of this, we see more and more above-average students failing the most basic of classes.

The BIGGEST mistake that can be made for children like this is to put them in more remedial classes. Doing so will cause them to get used to being lazy, and will only serve to cover their potential in a thick, wet blanket. Without challenge, the child will not be facilitated in any way, and will never grow out of slacking off.

But do not fret; there are ways to help children who are failing without putting them in easier classes.

Ironically, the solution to a gifted child slacking is often to put them in HARDER classes. As stated earlier, their slacking usually stems from a lack of challenge or motivation. Moving your child from on-level mathematics in to advanced placement may be exactly what they need: a faster pace and higher difficulty. This encourages the child to do their homework on a daily basis AND to pay more attention in class, so that they do not fall behind.

This solution worked for me when I was a slacking student back in high school. I consistently slept during Algebra 2 and never did my homework, leading me to have trouble passing the class, despite being leaps and strides ahead of the class in terms of knowledge. The next year, I hopped into advanced placement calculus, thinking I could slink by on minimal effort once again. However, the very rapid pace of the class created a very apparent need for me to apply myself, leading to much less slacking, and much more reward from the class.

For gifted children who are slacking and therefore not understanding the material, the cause of their slacking must be reexamined. In the previous example, the child was way ahead of the class and therefore bored and unmotivated. In this case, however, the child may be uninterested in classes he is slacking in, leading him to pay no attention in class. The difference between these two cases is that in the former, the student is not learning anything, and will inevitably fall behind.

In order to help this student find motivation to succeed in school, parents and/or teachers should collaborate with the student to find a way to make it interesting to them. A student I worked with two years ago did not have many interests aside from mathematics and architecture. In order to help this student succeed in other classes, I sat down with her and taught her aspects of other subjects that could be viewed from a mathematical perspective.

For instance, to help her with biology, I showed her how to identify DNA strands and how to observe the size and scale of cells using numbers and measurements. I taught her formulas to use in writing papers for English, and gave her statistics and dates to learn for history. These all catered to her specific skillset, while also helping her in areas she was struggling.

Every parent of a gifted child knows that there are certain hardships they will face while their child is in school. Gifted children seldom fall in the "average" category when it comes to grades. If your gifted child is slacking in school, start by identifying the problem. Children will have no problem telling you they are bored in class, or that they are just plain uninterested. Then, contact your school's (or school district's) gifted specialist.

Proceed with caution, and know that your gifted child's mind is like a small plant. With the right nourishment and facilitation, it will grow in to something wonderous and grand. However, if left ignored, it will never grow out of an immature state, and potential could be wasted forever.

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