Advice to Gifted Children from a College Dropout

Some of the best advice I’ve received about raising a gifted child – and like you, I’ve gotten advice from just about everybody – was from a college Advice to Gifted Childrendropout.

He wasn’t your typical dropout. He was (is) gifted. He graduated at the top of his class and had an impressive high school academic career filled with science and math competitions. He was well read and an accomplished public speaker for someone his age. He’d even been accepted to an Ivy League school – one I’d be thrilled to have my daughter attend.

But he didn’t go to the Ivy League school. Instead, he chose the honors college at a large state university. It wasn’t one of those ivy covered colleges but still a very good school. I’ll probably be okay should my daughter choose to go there.

He didn’t make it through his sophomore year. There were probably several reasons about what why that is but here’s what he told me. This is what he wanted me to know about being a gifted child.

Learn how to study – college is too late

He never bothered to learn how to study because everything had come so easy to him in school. He didn’t have to work hard for his good grades and so when he got to college he didn’t have the tools to manage his time or school work. I’ve since learned this isn’t an uncommon situation for many college freshmen but it can be particularly devastating for those who’ve basically gotten through high school on autopilot.

Do things that are hard

Not stretching as a student can have serious consequences in life, not just in college. There is no challenge and therefore no real success in always taking the easy road. Sometimes the easy road of a gifted student includes AP classes or maybe advanced calculus (that was a breeze for this dropout) so it’s easy to believe that they’re being tested academically. Find a way to keep challenged. The payoff is that when difficulties present themselves – and they will – the skills needed to be successful are already honed.

Fail now; recover now

Failing out of college can be a devastating blow and recovery can seem almost impossible for even those of the strongest will. It’s much easier to recover from failing 3rd grade science. Let your gifted student – ANY student – experience failure while they’re young. The lesson of learning how to recover from a failure is invaluable.

Of course it’s simple to read these words and it’s another thing to put into to practice. How often as parents of gifted children do we simply assume that since they’re in the honors classes, have the high test scores, or have grade accelerated that they’re being appropriately challenged? It’s easy to fall into complacency. With potentially risky outcomes.

Don’t worry about this college dropout. He found his way back to college and will soon graduate with a degree in chemical engineering and a wisdom beyond his years. He’s going to be just fine.

How do you make sure to keep your kids challenged academically?



12 Responses

  1. Great advice. Although I hate labeling, I have been forced to face the fact that my oldest is gifted. I love what you covered here, especially doing things that are hard. As you know, most gifted children are perfectionists and hate to be wrong. My child loves doing things that are a challenge, but once it’s too challenging – she shuts down. Math – no problem, but writing is something that stretches her. She’s good at it, but hates doing it. Sometimes doing those painful tasks can stretch them in a good way. Thanks for sharing. I will be reading along.

  2. A great post and lessons I am continually torn with in my own life. While never labeled as gifted – 1) I never learned how to really study until college, 2) I didn’t do much that was “hard” beyond computer programming, and 3) had never failed until Calc and Physics my freshman year of college. If had a 1.2 GPA but managed to turn myself around and it has shaped who I am today. My daughter and son have both been identified as gifted and so I am continually thinking about this advice for them…

  3. We have been learning this the hard way this year with two gifted children. The older one wasn’t being challenged and got bored — and ended up having to drop out of school (now being homeschooled, but wants to return to HS). The younger one struggled in one subject that had previously been easy and failed some quizzes and tests. Learning resilience as a teenager is a good thing, but it is hard as a parents to watch kids fail. We hope that lessons have been learned and next year will be better for both. Recovery is a work in progress.

  4. Great advice! I think three things are so essential for gifted kids: learn to learn, learn to try, learn to fail–essentially, what your college student told you. Those 100% scores on everything your child brings home feel pretty good until you realize they’re a sign that learning isn’t necessarily taking place.

    We still struggle with finding an appropriate academic challenge for our son, but in working with his teachers, we’ve at least been able to put a strong math curriculum in place. Academic challenge in a child who’s used to everything coming easily to him definitely isn’t pretty–but it’s essential if he’s ever to face (any) challenges as he matures. His teachers remind him daily to work carefully and slowly, and we help him as needed and remind him that we don’t ask for perfection, but instead for his best effort.

    I have to admit that those 70-85% grades stunned me at first, but once I realized that they indicated he was learning, I was relieved. In the primary grades, I’ll take process over product. The process will result in knowing how to learn, being willing to approach difficult tasks creatively, and, sometimes, knowing that success can come after failure–if you’re willing to try again.

    • The Common Mom says

      I wish everyone, especially teachers, would realize that just because a student gets A grades doesn’t mean that learning is actually taking place. I’m glad I’m not the only parent that would rather see lower grades and learning actually happening. Now, my daughter’s still in elementary school so these are less painful than they would be in high school or college. Hopefully, this will be a lesson learned before then.

  5. I struggle with these very issues (among others) with my gifted 13 y.o. son. He is so accustomed to things comng easily that when a task requires the slightest effort he shuts down nd acts like ive asked him to attempt an impossible feat. And the perfectionism causes him to beleive he is bad at things that take him slight effort. When, in fact, he is actually very good at the given task. Just this week I had a discussion with him that it is more important to me that he learn to accept that imperfection is normal and ok. Also thay he learn to apply himself to “hard” tasks and stick to things that dont interest him. These skills are more important for him than any academic grade.

    • The Common Mom says

      I couldn’t agree more that it’s important for these kids – all kids – to learn how to do “hard” tasks because I find that they’ll usually rise to the challenge!

  6. We have a similar story here at our house. Carol Dweck’s book Mindset is a must read for parents of gifted kids. We are working hard now, he is almost 16, to build a growth mindset.

    • The Common Mom says

      Agree with you on Carol Dweck’s Mindset. Another good one is How Children Succeed by Paul Tough. Building a growth mindset is tough but important for all kids – gifted or not.

  7. I flunked out of a lame lame state school that graduates illiterates. For all the reasons you sited above.

    I immediately enrolled as a “freshman” in another college as an alternative (adult returning to school). This college was small, with an excellent reputation.

    It was a hard lesson to learn, and when I seemed to be falling off the rails again, on of my professors called me at home to demand I return to class and get it together. She mentioned that she had looked up my schedule and talked to professor X and professor Y.

    She saved my academic career. I have 3 graduate degrees now.

    *moral of the story- you can recover, but it is hard work.

  8. * one of my.

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