When Your Gifted Child Says School is Hard

Frustrated Child in a Classroom
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When my son was in first grade, he told me that the work was too hard. What? I was beyond confused. This was a kid who hadn't struggled with anything practically since the day he was born. How is it that first grade work was turning out to be too hard for him? I should add that I put him in a private school in order to start him early in his schooling. You see, he had missed our state's cutoff date by all of 28 days.

He was five years old and reading on a third grade level. And no, I didn't stick flashcards in his face and force him to learn to read. I was no "tiger mom."

From his earliest days, my son was fascinated by letters and words. In fact, he was SO interested that at one time, I began to fear he had hyperlexia (he doesn't). When he was around 2 1/2, he read his first word and by the time he was three, he was already a fluent reader. We spent a lot of time finding books for him to read and it wasn't long before he knew more about space, dinosaurs, the human body, and several other topics than many adults I know.

So why was first grade so hard?  It wasn't.

"Hard" Doesn't Always Mean "Hard"

First grade was not a good time for us. Kindergarten hadn't been so good either, but I had told my son that first grade would be better, that he would learn new things (things beyond the alphabet). More than the very basics were taught in first grade, but it still didn't include anything new.

My son already knew pretty much everything that was being taught to the kids. This is not unusual for gifted kids. They often come to school already knowing a good portion of the subject matter being taught.

What I finally came to understand about my son's comment that first grade work was too hard is that it was hard for him to focus on and complete the work because it was oppressively tedious and boring.

He was supposed to do all the work meant to reinforce newly learned concepts, even though he had mastered the concepts one or two or even three years earlier. Although he had an extensive vocabulary, my son did not have the vocabulary he needed to explain why he had so much trouble completing first grade work.

Paying Attention and Performing is Hard When You Are Bored Silly

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.

At this point, my son was 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 back yard.

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!

We've all been to meetings where we are expected to pay attention when we find the presentation ... boring. How would you describe the feeling you had as you sat there, trying not to fidget? Would you say it was hard to sit still and look interested? That's what your child might mean if she says school is "hard."  Of course, your child could have a learning disability, but if you have ruled out that possibility and the child you know to be one who learns easily and quickly is telling you school is hard, then you definitely want to consider the possibility that what your child means is that the work is too EASY and it's hard to pay attention and complete it.

What to Do If Your Child Says Work Is Too Hard

The first thing to do when your child tells you work you are sure should be easy for her is too hard is to find out just what that work is. Don't assume that the work is too challenging and start looking for tutors. Instead, talk to your child. What is it that she is being asked to do? Which work specifically does your child believe is "too hard"? While she might not be able to explain or describe it, she may be able to show you.

If your child is unable to describe or explain the work to you, or you still aren't sure what makes it hard for your child to do it, then it's time to make a first appointment with the teacher. Consider this a fact-finding mission rather than one to find a solution. You must first understand the problem before you can find the right solution. Find out from the teacher what the kids are being asked to do. Avoid letting on that your child has told you that the work is too hard, unless the teacher already knows. Your goal at this point is to find out why your child thinks it's too hard.

Get any details about the work that aren't obvious from the work itself. For example, if you know that your child was supposed to complete a math sheet, but what else do you know about it? How many of those worksheets have the kids already done?

Once you understand why your child feels the work is too hard, it is time to find solutions. And that will almost certainly require a visit with the teacher to get the help your child needs.

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