Underachievement is the unanticipated difference between accomplishment and ability.  
Underachievement is a very complex situation with many possible interwoven causes. Among the areas to explore are:
  • social issues such as peer pressure;
  • psychological issues such as emotional sensitivities or perfectionism;
  • undiagnosed learning disabilities;
  • lack of interest in curriculum or curriculum is not challenging and engaging;
  • low teacher expectations, especially with twice-exceptional, minority, and students from low-income backgrounds.

What You Can Do

Talk to your child and her teacher. It is important to work with your child while simultaneously helping the school find appropriate options to provide supportive and stimulating learning opportunities. Answers to the following questions can point you to possible solutions.

Two Initial Questions to Answer

  1. Does your child believe he can do the work and has control over how well he does?
  2. Does your child see value in the work at school?

These are Some Other Questions to Keep in Mind.

  • How have your child's teachers dealt with the situation so far? Has any school intervention been more successful than any other?
  • Are negative stereotypes or social pressures encouraging your child to “not be smart”?
  • Are there particular areas or activities that your child really likes at school?  And what does he or she talk about when excited?
  • What does your child dislike and what is most difficult? In other words, does he or she like beginning a project, but does not like completing it?
  • Do you observe bored behavior at home and, if so, when?

Learn how to work with your child's teacher

Find relevant topics in Connecting for High Potential, a newsletter exploring gifted issues from the parents' and teachers' perspective

More Information

Ford, D.Y. (2011). Reversing underachievement among gifted black students. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Trail, B.A. (2011). Twice-exceptional gifted children: Understanding, teaching, and counseling gifted students. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Siegle, D. (2013). The underachieving gifted child: Recognizing, understanding, and reversing underachievement. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Ritchotte, J. A. (2010, June). Reversing gifted underachievement: The intervention that set one student on the path to success. Parenting for High Potential, 21-26.

ERIC Digest article "Underachieving Gifted Students" includes the role of the family in reversing the problem. 

Research Article:  Rubenstein, L.D., Siegle, D.  Introduction to the special issue: Understanding and promoting motivation in gifted students, Psychology in the Schools (49)7. Wiley Subscription Services, Inc., A Wiley Company (requires subscription of purchase of article)