Bright people run into two curses in life that others mistake as blessings. The first is that many tasks come easy to them. The second is that they can do okay for a long time without experiencing failure or set-backs. Both of these lead to a life of underachievement.
In "Patterns of Underachievement in Gifted Students", Carolyn Coil ( notes 3 patterns where smart kids dive into underachieving:
1) Does well in early grades, then underachieves more as they get older
2) Sporadic up-and-down pattern
3) No effort to go beyond the minimum
It's terrible to be told "you did well because you're smart". That's like telling an Olympic athlete they won a medal because they had good genetics. It ignores the value of work and effort. When things are easy, you aren't often tested as your best. When success is assumed because you are smart, you avoid risks.
This leads 'because you are smart' kids to lifelong problems. Students praised for being smart choose an easy task over a harder challenge. Students praised, instead, for effort choose harder, more meaningful tasks.
Carol Fertig at Pfurock Press notes "Extrinsic motivation drives a person to do things for tangible rewards or pressures, rather than for the fun of it [...] Intrinsic motivation drives a person to do things just for the fun of it, or because she believes it is a good or right thing to do. [...] Intrinsic motivation is by far the most desirable as it is long lasting. [...] It is always most desirable to encourage hard work and learning for the love and self-satisfaction of it rather than for a short-term reward or punishment."
Earlier I covered myths of gifted education, and now Coil provides 30 strategies to help underachievers. Her research includes avoiding "Parents-to-the-Rescue" syndrome. The urge for a parent to solve his/her child's problems is the easy-- and wrong-- way to set lifelong habits. In school, sports, activities, it is often necessary to let your child fail. As someone once quipped, "failure brings learning. Success? Not so much."
Coil advises you set limits on how often to rescue. For kids in kindergarten through 2nd grade, every 2 weeks you can step in to deliver that forgotten project or hand-hold through something they should do themself. For 3rd to 5th grade, cut back to once a month. By 6th grade and up, once per semester or grading period. And for 12th graders? Never. That's the time where they stand or fall on their own merit.
The strongest advice when dealing with anyone (child or adult) is to praise for persistence and effort rather than for intelligence and/or how smart/gifted he or she is. Relating stories about people who have overcome fear, anxiety, economic distress and other problems does not just make for a good movie, it sets up a basic admission of the reality of life.
Success does not comes automatically without any failures or set-backs. If it does-- you aren't setting your goals high enough.
... in the midst of fundraising-- visit and buy mission patches before it expires May 21st!
When Smart Kids Fail