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Gifted Child Stopped Doing Homework

Gifted and Talented Expert Advice from Noreen H. Joslyn, LISW, ACSW

Q: Over the past few weeks, my gifted ten-year-old fifth-grader has been reluctant to do his homework. He has lied to me and his father, saying that he finished the work at school, and lied to his teachers, saying he left it at home. Phone calls from his teachers finally alerted us and he spent the weekend catching up on three weeks worth of work and he is grounded with no TV or computer for two weeks. However, we still don't know why he did it! He says he just forgot about it, but all the assignments are in his personal planner.

He is popular with his friends and teachers, plays soccer and trombone, and enjoys reading and computer games. There are no problems here at home, and his teachers and coach know of none. I know he is bored with school and thinks most of the homework is "stupid," but I can't convince the school to give him more challenging assignments if he can't show the discipline to complete the current work. Is there anything you can suggest?

A: If this is a sudden problem, the approach is different than if it's an ongoing concern. I have actually known kids to take a "homework vacation" just to see what would happen! If this is the case, your son has now figured out the answer to that. I actually believe more in positive reinforcement than in taking everything away. If all work is completed, then he earns computer time or TV time. There is no such answer as "I left it at school." All completed work must be shown to you, or a teacher initials the planner to show that it has been turned in. No proof -- no reward. It sounds as if he uses his assignment planner correctly -- now he must show it to you daily with evidence of completed work. If he thinks this is dumb, point out that he is earning back the trust of you and his teachers to work independently again. I would use this plan for about one grading period to see if he improves.

I also wonder if he is somehow feeling some peer pressure not to appear too smart. This problem can start to crop up at about this age level. Try an open-ended casual conversation about this topic and see what he says. How are his friends doing in their grades? Does he not want to appear different from them? If this is the case, perhaps he and Dad can talk about how guys can have different skills and still be friends, or what to say if he is being teased about being smart.

Is more challenging work from school truly a possibility for him? If so, have a teacher share with him what that might be to get him interested. He may think it will all be too hard or not interesting, so why try for it. I'd also like to point out that challenging material can also be in the form of special activities such as Junior Great Books, Science Fairs, school newspaper, and so on. What academic skill does your son have that might also turn into a fun activity with other kids for him?

All of these recommendations assume that there are no other problems for your son such as depression, a serious peer problem, or a health concern. If you can truly rule out all the serious stuff, then go for some positive reinforcement to see if he improves. Good Luck!

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Noreen Joslyn is a licensed independent social worker in the state of Ohio and is a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers. She has a master's degree in Social Work, specializing in family and children, from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a psychiatric social worker in private practice with Ken DeLuca, Ph.D. & Associates, where she counsels parents and children.

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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