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Gifted but Failing

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My husband and I are at our wits' end. Our oldest son is in the eighth grade and he is failing. He is in the gifted program and we know from standardized test scores and the SAT's that he took in seventh grade that he truly is a very bright young man but he is not motivated to do his school work. Both my husband and I are educated professionals. We feel that we are good role models, also. Right now our son is in danger of being retained in eighth grade which seems to be somewhat motivating for him, but I realize that this is not addressing the real problem, nor will it prevent us from going through this again. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

A: Standardized test scores and seventh grade SAT's don't mean that your son might not have been feeling overburdened by the difficulty of some of the academic material presented him. Oftentimes kids who have always been labeled as very bright don't know how to handle the confusion and fear of coming up against concepts and/or content that they can't understand immediately. Their whole self-concept gets overturned and they feel they are not "the smart kid" anymore. Many panic and give up, appearing to others to not be motivated.

Your son may also have been going through emotional dilemmas associated with his age and stage of development where other attributes are considered more valued by his peers than getting great grades. He is also distancing himself from his brother by not being like him in school.

Given these observations, I would have a few heart-to-hearts with your boy and offer him enough empathy so that he understands you have not given up on him, that you still believe in him. Offer him private tutorial help to jump start his climb back. This would also be a good way to find out if he has been struggling with some basic academic concepts. Emphasize that this is one small piece of time in his life and that you know he will land on his feet again. Measure him by several of his good qualities that are still present while you are talking with him. Let him know that he will always be special, regardless of whatever academic success he achieves. Encouraging effort and not results is a good framework to operate in.

I know you'll abide with your son; this is one of those bumps that tests families. You'll pass with flying colors.

More on: Expert Advice

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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