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Previously Advanced Child Not Performing in Formal School

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: Hi, I'm a mother of two children, my son is 7 and daughter is 3. My son showed some strange signs before he turned one, he was able to count, could complete puzzles very easily and knew different colours and had a very strong sense of direction by the age of three he could tell where which road will take you where and we even used to call him a navigator. When he started pre school at three the teacher used to tell us how bright bright he was and that he was far ahead of his peers. The teacher also mentioned that he was able to learn passively while he was busy going up and down in the class which was kind of strange.

But things just suddenly changed when he was 5 and we moved to another province. We put him in another school and he refused to do any formal work in class according to the teacher. At the beginning of the next year we moved him to another school and things didn't get any better as the teacher gave us a bad report all the time that he's a busy body and disruptive and and doesn't finish his work. He's currently in grade 1 and not doing well. The teacher says he's got some commutation problems and is is unable to express himself. We took him to an educational psychologist and his assessment was inconclusive as the result were inconsistent. He is strongly attracted to music. Please help as this is really frustrating on our side.

A: Based on your description of your son's previous performance, it does appear that he has been advanced until you moved. There are many reasons that can be contributed here.

Preschools are almost always more fun because there is less rigour in academic and more play - which is how advanced children prefer to learn. Your son may have been enjoying the unstructured learning in preschool and suddenly in Grade 1, formal learning begins. Some children take time to adjust. This could be a phase but the teacher makes a difference as well.

The fact that his preschool teacher recognises his advanced ability probably made him feel comfortable with her. He could also be a kinaesthetic learner - children who learn better with movement. At grade school, this is probably not allowed as the syllabus is more structured and children are expected to stay put and listen to the teacher. The teacher is probably not helping much as there are many other children in the classroom and personalised attention that he could be used to is just not there. Some children learn quickly but it could be that your son is lacking attention in the classroom, so to get attention from the teacher, he manifests in behaviours that gets him some attention.

Another reason could be that he is already advanced and the class is holding him back. If he is learning stuff that he has already mastered, it could be a very dull classroom for him. To keep his mind occupied, he disrupts his peers. If this is the case, suggest that the teacher give him more challenging work especially if she realised that he completes his work very quickly. If he is not completing is work, check if it is too difficult, too easy or too boring. You would probably know if he already knows the work he is doing. Check if he is also daydreaming in class.

It also appears that the sudden change was after his baby sister was born. Without realising, parents tend to pay a lot of attention to a new born or younger sibling; which is quite normal because the attention and care is required for the youngest in the family. However, if your son is highly sensitive, at his tender age he may feel left out or neglected. One of the reasons children misbehave is the to get attention of others which is manifested in unwanted behaviour. This could also be a reason so perhaps if he is made to feel important and wanted, things may gradually change both at home and in school. Try to include him in everything and show him how important he is - he is so young, he needs to be shown love. Hug a lot, say nice things, see his baby pictures together and make time for him alone – any activity that makes the bond stronger will help him.

Last but not least, speak to his teachers and do not just take word for his behaviour – get them to explain when and how he misbehaves. You know your child best so you may be able to help them understand him. Hope that helps. Best of luck to you!


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