Spirited kids are often really, ridiculously smart. The reason for this is plain. Defiant kids usually evade traditional disciplinary tactics, because they out-think adults.
"Because I said so" doesn't work for a highly intelligent little person. Neither does "Last one in bed is a rotten egg." They are more likely to question back, "What IS a rotten egg, and why does that even matter ? I don't care if I'm a rotten egg!" Smart kids are unlikely to be swayed by material rewards, like the promise of a special treat, because they have a stronger ability to delay gratification than other children. The simple gratification of being right or getting their own way can sustain them for hours, days, or weeks. Their ability to "just not care" about the consequences is actually quite profound. And boy, do smart kids know how to manipulate people! They are puppet-masters!
When parents tell me that their defiant child is failing school, here is one of the first questions I ask myself: "Is this child actually gifted?"
When I use the word "gifted" I don't mean "has a crazy high IQ" or "gets straight As" or even "is a fantastic student." Gifted children can actually struggle academically because they are profoundly, painfully bored. Sometimes this boredom causes them to space out in class or refuse homework. Sometimes this boredom causes energy-sucking depression, fatigue, and low self-worth.
In addition, some gifted children are exceptionally bright in areas that standardized education doesn't cater to, such as visual art, advanced physics, or robotics. So while he's failing English all through grade school, we might not see until graduate school that he has an incredible gift for computer programming. The majority of gifted kids will sail through school, bringing home a 4.0 GPA and rarely even completing homework. But there's a costly price to pay.
Kids who never experience failure turn into young people who feel empty, lifeless, and lost.
We build self-esteem through surviving failure after failure and pushing hard to succeed. Through this experience of falling down, we learn how to rise. We learn how strong we truly are. Easy success does not build confidence. It just doesn't; No matter how many "A+" papers your child brings home or how much praise they earn. Without intellectual struggle, gifted kids easily fall into depression and existential grief. Depression can easily turn into "just not caring" about school. It can turn into failing school. Or worse.
Gifted kids need to be engaged in something educational that absolutely fascinates and frustrates them. They need to not understand some things right away. They need to experience the failure, curiosity, smallness, and sense of wonder that their same-aged peers feel at school every day.
If their gifts are not being tapped into or challenged at school, you may have to find a special avenue to help them. This might be an engaging extracurricular activity. It might be a class at a local community college or a course online. It also might mean advocating for your child at school with teachers, creating an IEP or 504 Plan, or even changing schools.
Here's the big take-away: Spirited kids need to be challenged. They need to fail!