It's not the typical backseat of the car are we there yet, sit through your sister's ballet recital, wait in line with mom at the grocery store boredom. That seems normal, although not without the requisite whining and complaints.
No, this is something new. Most gifted children have spent preschool and kindergarten indulging their creativity, following their muse, exploring whatever piqued their interest. But then real school starts.
It's not that school isn't boring for everyone some of the time. All of us have gone through this. But gifted children quickly realize that the degree of boredom they endure seems vastly different from what their peers experience.
- They finish papers, projects and reading much more quickly.
- They don't require the same level of repetition
- They hunger for a faster pace and greater complexity
- They see their classmates engaged in class and sometimes even struggling with assignments that are easy, and often simplistic for them.
- They may start to notice the teacher's frustration when they ask "distracting" questions, complain they are bored, or talk too much.
Soon their bewilderment morphs into anger, even as they settle into the classroom routine. This isn't what they expected! They would rather learn on their own, read a book, draw pictures, build Legos, or just use their imagination than reiterate facts they already know. Some go to the teacher and ask pointed questions like "why are we doing stuff we learned in preschool?" Or "why do we have to do the same thing over and over again when it's so easy?"
But most gifted children save their complaints for home. Parents get to witness their tears, angry outbursts, and refusal to complete assignments they label as "stupid" and not worth their time. After having suppressed frustration all day at school, they batter the family with misdirected anger. Parents must weather their child's disappointment and anger, limit conflict at home, provide empathy for their child's experience at school, and take care to not fuel further frustration by showing too much of their own distress. A delicate balance to achieve.
And when children cannot express frustration directly to their teacher or family, it may emerge in one of several forms:
Acting out - Some children entertain themselves by talking too much, becoming the class clown, or causing trouble in the classroom. At worst, frustration may be expressed through outright aggression - bullying, fighting, or using their advanced verbal skills to manipulate other classmates. Typically, parents receive feedback from teachers about their child's problem behaviors.
Internalizing - These children don't show outward signs of distress, but instead, become shy, withdrawn, or develop physical symptoms, such as stomach-aches or headaches. They may become anxious, have difficulty getting up in the morning, or refuse to go to school, citing physical complaints or vague fears. Often they fall below the radar, and teachers may not recognize their distress.
Regardless of whether the child's boredom is expressed overtly or indirectly, it can create long-lasting damage. Boredom fuels apathy, disregard for authority, underachievement, and sometimes a complete loss of interest in school. Even those gifted children who are remarkably patient and tolerate the situation are left with a distorted perception of their abilities. They may assume all academic challenges will be easy, never learn to struggle or push themselves, and fear failure. They avoid taking academic risks and may never reach their potential.
When schools are unable or unwilling to challenge gifted children, parents need to mobilize their efforts:
1. Start by asking for help.
Ask the teacher for advice. Approach him or her respectfully, avoiding the "boredom" word, since this can be off-putting. Instead, focus on specific behaviors. Describe your child's distractibility, daydreaming, and complaints at home. (Sometimes schools are more open to ameliorating behavior problems than creating a more challenging learning environment.) Ask the teacher about options such as extending and enriching the curriculum, subject or grade acceleration, or gifted programming. If you are met with roadblocks, find out what further steps are needed .
2. Gather information.
Become informed. You need as much information about your child, your district's and state's regulations, and available resources as possible. Get your child tested by a licensed psychologist or school psychologist. Testing provides valuable information about your child's strengths and weaknesses, and can offer concrete data that can aid in requesting additional services. Learn as much as you can about gifted children and their academic and social and emotional needs through books, websites such as NAGC, SENG and Hoagiesgifted, and even online forums such as Davidson's Gifted Issues Forum.
3. Explore other options
Determine whether the school is the best possible fit for your child and whether other options should be considered. Sometimes a local private school or homeschooling can provide relief and offer greater flexibility or a more challenging curriculum. Yet these options present limitations (financial or time constraints) that limit their suitability for some children and families. Public schools are free, and ideally, gifted children deserve access to an appropriate and challenging education that meets their needs.
4. Help your child adjust
You can offer ideas for coping with boredom, while still assuring your child you are advocating for change. Even when enrichment or acceleration are offered, many gifted children still endure periods of boredom. Your child benefits from learning coping skills for managing boredom at school.
- Ask the teacher for alternative activities for your child when classwork is completed; at the very least, get permission for him or her to draw or read a favorite book while the other students are still working
- Find enriching extra-curricular activities, depending on availability and your financial resources. These enhance life outside of school, although may not compensate for what the classroom lacks.
- As noted in a previous post, you may need to help your child develop strategies for banishing boredom until the situation hopefully improves. For example, your child could learn to manage free time by coming up with more in-depth questions about the subject matter, creating a poem related to what is being taught, or composing a musical tune that fits with the reading material.
You are your child's best role model and teach how to adapt to difficult situations through your actions. Your child will notice how readily you advocate, how respectfully you treat school staff, how strongly you push for change, and when it is appropriate to back down and accept a compromise. Children learn humility, respect, collaboration, appropriate assertiveness, and tolerance from this experience. There are no perfect solutions to addressing the dilemma of giftedness and boredom in the classroom, but you can help your child face this challenge through your caring, attentive and persistent presence.
What solutions have you found? Let us know in the comments section below.