When a child struggles in school it is not easy to determine if they are driven or distracted. Unfortunately, a child that is struggling due to lack of a challenge can look like one that is overwhelmed. There are some differences to help determine the case for your child.
Doing the Work
A child that is getting all of their work done and looking for more to do is easy to assess. Another situation though may be a child that gets bored before completing work. This may look like frustration, but instead is due to not feeling challenged. Thus, the child is able to get the work done without really thinking about it and thus they brush it aside. When in doubt, watch a child working through the problems that are likely one extreme or the other. Their facial expressions may tell the whole tale.
A struggle that can occur for a gifted child is underestimating a tack. In this situation, they assume already understand a concept when they do not. For example, I was always good at math and assumed Calculus and Differential Equations would be easy for me. I was very wrong and became highly frustrated quickly. This was due to normal struggles in learning a new concept and the additional burden of thinking it would be easy. Thus, a gifted child may suffer higher highs and lower lows simply due to unrealistic expectations.
The other side of this coin is a child that struggles regularly. They start to think that every challenge will be too much for them and it can take some convincing when they get a concept quickly. This self-doubt can cause frustration in getting a concept quickly but then assuming they must be mistaken. Sometimes, when a challenge is easily met, we make it bigger than it is because we are surprised by our achievement. This concept appears in sports a lot. You will often hear about an athlete that is struggling or successful based on their confidence in their skills.
A good indicator of driven or distracted is what is done instead of the activity. For example, instead of working through a worksheet, what does the child choose to do? If they find some other activity like doing other work or maybe a puzzle then the child is looking for a challenge. When the alternative chosen is day dreaming or a mindless activity then the child is likely trying to avoid the frustrating work. The key to a driven child is that they are always looking for the next challenge. A child that is struggling will look for relief from the struggle. This, it is like a “fight or flight” response. The driven child dives further into challenges while the distracted one will look for avenues of escape.