Dona Matthews

Dona Matthews, PhD, has been working with children, adolescents, families, and schools since 1990, and has written dozens of articles and several books about children and adolescents. She writes a twice-weekly advice column for Parents Space, 'Ask Dr Dona.' Please send your questions to her at the e-address below. She'll do her best to answer your question as quickly as possible.

rsz boy thinking Fix the Learning Mismatch to Solve Boredom, Distractibility, Social Problems


 My 7-year-old third grader tells me he’s bored at the very good private school he attends. Noah’s teacher describes him as impulsive, acting out in class, and easily distracted, although a recent assessment (which identified him as ‘gifted’) didn’t turn up any attention problems. He has friends out of school, mostly kids who are older than him, 

but his teacher says he doesn’t have any friends in Grade 3.  He’s doing well academically, but the school won’t consider him for acceleration because of their concerns about his ‘social and behavioral problems.’


While ‘very good private schools’ might be very good for some kids, sometimes they’re a mismatch for a child who’s an independent or creative thinker, or who’s exceptionally advanced in one or more academic areas—aka gifted.

The research on academic acceleration (confirmed by my own professional experience) shows there can be big improvements in social and behavioral problems when a mismatch is addressed, and a child is challenged academically. When negative behavior is a result of a bad fit between the learner and the school situation—which may be the case with Noah—the best solution is not to try to ‘fix’ the child, but rather to adapt instruction to the child’s learning needs. I don’t know enough about your particular situation to know whether that’s what’s happening here, but this is something to consider.

A school/child mismatch can show up as unhappiness, attention issues, academic disaffection, depressive-type symptoms, boredom, and/or behavior problems, and your description of Noah suggests that that’s a possibility here. If acceleration is out of the question, I’d ask the school to enrich his learning in the areas (math, science, language arts, etc.) where his assessment shows he’s gifted.

If the problems persist, I recommend that you take a look at other schools and programs, including gifted programming options in the public system. I’ve often had great success—measured in the child’s happiness, behavior, and learning outcomes—when a bored but intelligent and creative child moved away from his ‘very good private school,’ and into a public school, where teachers have more training and support for addressing mismatches, and for adapting to individual learning differences.

For more on raising gifted kids,  and

For more on acceleration,

What do you think?

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