My gifted son hates school

Parent Question:
My son started sixth class this year and he really hates going to school. He says he “hates” the work and that he is bored. I try to jolly him along and he goes in, but he looks really down in the dumps most days and I worry about him. He started this last year in fifth class, but it is now much worse.

When I spoke to his teacher last year, she said he was a quiet child in school and did not say too much there. She said he was a very able and gifted student, and he got top scores in the Drumcondra tests, though he was often distracted in class. I have not spoken to his new teacher yet and am planning to meet her soon, given how he is unhappy. How should I approach the teacher and how can I help my son?

Many high-ability and gifted students can struggle in school. The standard school curriculum that is targeted at the average needs of 25-plus pupils may not meet needs of gifted students. Their own learning interests may not be covered or not in enough depth, which might leave them feeling bored and unchallenged. This can lead to some of them becoming demotivated and even depressed about going to school. Others can act out behaviourally and get into trouble in the classroom.

Also, many high-ability students can have additional needs such as ADHD, autism or specific learning difficulties that don’t get picked up as their ability masks these other needs. Further, while there might be a good awareness in schools of the needs of children who are struggling academically, this is less so for high-ability students. There can be a bias against this children getting specialised help or resources as the assumption is that they have “high ability and should be able to cope”, which of course is not always the case.

In helping your son, the first step is to try and gain a more complete picture of his abilities and needs. You can talk to his teacher about the assessments that have already been done and discuss what further ones could be done. Explain how, though quiet in class, he is struggling emotionally and needs her help as his teacher. You could seek out a full psychological assessment and/or you could attend the assessment at the Centre for Talented Youth (CTYI) which is run out of Dublin City University.

You could also discuss with his teacher, and possibly the principal, the supports that could be provided at school. Some schools are happy to provide some resource hours to high-ability students. For example, a resource teacher could take your son and a small group of other high-ability pupils and provide in-depth input on maths or English or coding etc. This also might free up the class teacher to attend to the needs of other children in the class.

Within the classroom, his teacher could also think of different ways to engage your son and address his needs. For example your son could:

  • Be provided with additional, more challenging work in the class.
  • Have extra questions he can do when he is finished the basic work.
  • Be asked to undertake special project work that matches his interests and ability such as a history or geography project.
  • Sometimes be paired with another high-ability pupils to undertake more in-depth discussion of a topic.
  • Be encouraged to engage in projects such as entering a national maths or writing competition, or representing the classroom in a quiz or sending an article or zany advert to a newspaper.

As a parent you can do a lot in the home to encourage him and to help him feel better about learning. This might include:

  • Providing him with new learning opportunities at home that match his interests whether this is doing quizzes, crosswords or sudoku or making the most of learning in everyday activities (such as doing DIY or reading recipes and cooking etc).
  • Closely observing what he is curious about and what he likes to learn, and then providing him with opportunities to explore this. This might include taking him to extra-curricular classes and formal activities as well as informal learning in the home such as watching engaging educational programmes together such as nature programmes, Horrible Histories or quiz shows.

The key is to find activities he is passionate about and loves to learn. Be open about what these might be. They could include: drama, sports, music, gardening, art, coding, learning languages etc.

If he says he is bored, don’t immediately feel you have to solve this for him. Encourage him to problem-solve for himself. Encourage him to be creative and to come up with lists of interesting activities he can do by himself such as writing, reading, puzzles/quizzes, playing music etc.

There are some great books that his teacher and you can read to provide more ideas such as The Gifted Learner – How to Help by Fidelma Healy Eames. The CTYI ( also run weekend and summer educational programme for gifted children.

John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the School of Psychology, University College Dublin. This parenting Q&A was originally published in the Irish Times in September 2023. John writes in the Irish Times Newspaper on Tuesdays. His website is