What If Your Gifted Child Tells You Easy Work Is Hard?

Bored and Frustrated Boy
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Imagine that your young gifted child tells you one day that the work at school is too hard. If you're like me, you'd probably be confused. How could a gifted child find school work hard? You may be thinking that it might be signs of a learning disability. But no, that's not it. You already know for a fact that your child has no LDs. And your child hasn't been accelerated and isn't in a gifted program. What, then, could your child possibly mean when they say their school work is hard?

It turns out that for some gifted kids, the work is so easy that it is almost physically painful to complete. It's hard to concentrate on work that is tediously boring and pointless.

So sometimes when a gifted child says they have trouble doing the work because it's too hard, what they are really saying is that the work is too EASY. If your child has also told their teacher that the work is "too hard," it's not going to be easy to convince the teacher that your child needs more, not less challenging work. But your chances of success are better if you know what to do.

Why Easy Work Can Be Hard to Do

If you read about my journey as the parent of a gifted child, you'll know that my son was an early self-taught reader. By the time he was in first grade, he was already reading third- and fourth-grade level books on space and the universe. He had read so many of those books that we ran out of books at his reading level in our town's library and had to go to other branches—often. And yet he was being asked to read first-grade level books on topics like bunnies in the backyard. It was excruciatingly painful for him. He couldn't sit still long enough to read the material and wasn't at all interested in answering the questions. He longed to read more about science. But...believe it or not, he was forbidden from bringing his own science books to school!

Trying to get my son's first-grade teacher and principal to understand the problem proved to be extremely difficult. He had already told his teacher that the work was "too hard." And of course, she interpreted it to mean that he was struggling with the concepts and the work. I soon gained a reputation for being one of "those" parents—you know...the one who pushes her kid to learn when he should be out playing. I found out later that the principal actually took my son out of class to her office so he could have the "play" time that she thought he was not getting at home.

Once I understood what it was my son was being asked to do, I knew why he called the work "hard." It was hard for him to concentrate on such mundane and uninteresting stories when he was so used to learning fascinating facts about the world from what he read. That allowed me to prepare for a meeting with my son's teacher.

Be Prepared and Provide Evidence

The best way to convince your child's teacher (and principal) that school work is too easy when your child has already "admitted" that it is too hard is to provide the evidence to support your claim that your child needs more, not less challenge.

First, find out what exactly it is that your child supposedly feels is "too hard." In our case, it was, among other things, answering reading comprehension questions on stories that were boring and far too simple and simplistic.

Gather the information you can use to support your position.

In my case, I wrote out a very long list of books my son had been reading. I'm pretty sure it was more than a page long. I also gathered a short stack of his favorite science encyclopedias that he used as reference books—and just to read for fun. I didn't have one, but if you have a portfolio of your child's work, gather that to show the teacher too. I also collected copies of articles about the need gifted children have for challenging work. These were scholarly articles that any teacher or principal would have a harder time dismissing.

It's not always easy to find scholarly articles, but if you live near a university or community college, a visit to their library should help you out. You can also try searching on Google Scholar if you don't have easy access to a university library. Although you may get some articles that aren't that scholarly, you'll have a better chance on Google Scholar than on Google. You may also find just abstracts rather than full articles, but that's a start. 

Another good type of article to get a copy of are those on the zone of proximal development. The advantage of this second type of article is that it concerns ALL learners, not just gifted ones, but it will definitely explain the need for challenging material. Other articles to look for would be those specific to what you see as part of the problem. For example, is boredom causing your child to misbehave? Look for articles on how boredom can lead to behavior problems.

Another type of evidence you can gather is more personal. In my case, I bought a letter written to me by my sister-in-law in which she had written about her struggles trying to get my nephew's needs met when he was young. It was a moving and a rather heart-breaking letter, but it contributed to my case. 

Once you have collected all the information including lists, articles, portfolio, and anything else you think will help support your case, make an appointment to speak with your child's teacher.

Talking With School Officials

It wasn't easy to win the principal and teacher over, and when I tried again two years later in another school, I wasn't successful—even though by that time, I had testing to back up what I said my son needed. Still, it is easier to be successful if you know how to talk to school officials. Here are a few tips.

1. Keep the focus on your child. You will often be told about the other children in the class—how they are doing, what they are struggling with, what they are doing well on, what they need. Politely respond by saying that you're glad that the school is concerned with all the children, but your concern is with your child.

2. Don't use the "G" word. Sadly, the word "gifted" is more often than not going to get you a closed mind. It would be nice if school officials everywhere understood giftedness and the needs of gifted children, but unfortunately, that is not the case.

Using the "G" word often marks you as a pushy parent, one who can be ignored.

3. Discuss your child's needs. You can talk about what your child needs without using the "G" word. Does your child need a faster pace? More in-depth learning? More visuals? More hands-on activities? More independent research opportunities? Talk about your child as an individual rather than as a member of a group.

It is within this context that you can discuss what makes the work for your child "hard." It may be "hard" for your child, for example, to stay focused on lessons that don't provide opportunities for more in-depth learning.

Results of My Meeting

I am so thankful that my meeting was successful, and I owe much of that success to my preparation for the meeting. Everything helped, including my sister-in-law's personal experience—written out, not verbally relayed. The principal and teacher agreed to an experiment. They agreed to let my son bring his science books to class and designated him the "science authority" of first grade (Think of Dorothy Ann in the Magic School Bus books). None of the other kids were upset by this. In fact, they loved it. They enjoyed being able to talk to a fellow classmate about science questions they had. Everyone was happy, including my son, whose behavior changed dramatically overnight. It took so little to give my son what he needed. It is hard to understand why it took so long and why so many parents of gifted children aren't successful in getting their child's needs met.

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