Why Smart Kids Struggle In School

brain-gears-copyHow is it possible for a smart child to have difficulty learning?

Whether it’s reading, spelling or math, about one in every five students hits a learning stumbling block of some sort during the early elementary school years.

Smart kids often struggle in school because there are SO MANY ways to be smart, and schools focus on just a few aspects of intelligence. Schools LOVE evaluating memory, especially the type of memory known as ‘working memory’. Processing speed and reasoning abilities are also uber important when it comes to school performance.


Simply put, those abilities are more measurable than some of the other types of intelligence. Memory, reasoning and processing speed are easily measured by tests, particularly multiple choice tests. (Cough…standardized tests…cough)

All of us are smart in different ways (and I’m not just being politically correct here, it’s true!). We each have different combinations of strengths and areas of challenge. Some of the many types of intelligence include:

  • Attention
    • Filtering/focusing
    • Impulse control
  • Memory
    • Short term
    • Long term
    • Working
    • Auditory
    • Visual
  • Processing Speed
  • Reasoning Abilities
    • Inductive
    • Deductive
  • Visual Processes
  • Spatial Processes
  • Perception
  • Symbolization
  • Conceptualization
  • Intersensory Integration
  • Verbal/linguistic Abilities
  • Kinesthetic Abilities
  • Musical Talent
  • Interpersonal Insightfulness
  • Intrapersonal Skills
  • Naturalist Abilities
  • Executive Function Abilities (organization, time management, controlling emotions and more)

You can be a perfectly smart person, with loads of talent and ability, but if your working memory, processing speed and reasoning are NOT where your strengths are, you may struggle in school.

And you will definitely be underestimated.

So what do we do if our child’s strengths are not in the areas that are spotlighted in school?

  • Try our best. Support our child in every way possible.
    • Help your child with homework.
    • Get a tutor.
    • Talk to his teachers/school and see what support is available.
  • Think aloud. Take your child along on your thought process as your figure stuff out with him.
  • Notice what is hard, what is confusing, and teach from there.
  • Talk to your child about how we all have strengths and areas of challenge. Help him understand himself. Help him accept himself and embrace his learning preferences.
  • Know that no child wants to fail, and being “lazy” is rare…and over-diagnosed.

And most importantly:

Help your child build his strengths, so that someday, when he is out of school and has more flexibility to pursue his gifts and interests, he knows what they are and has grown those to the point that they are ready to thrive.

Ask Heather

Send Heather your question, and she’ll get back to you promptly.