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When Your Gifted or 2e Kid Struggles,
Change the Context

Some contexts are inherently tricky for intense gifted/2e kids - here's how you can help

What’s something that’s consistently tough for your child despite your efforts to help them or their efforts to improve?

What’s an activity or time of day that consistently leads to your child's non-compliance, irritability, overly silly behavior, misbehavior, social problems, or big feelings?

I bet you’ve experimented with different ideas to help your child, but nothing you’ve tried seems to work.

 

When nothing you've tried has helped, I encourage you to change the context.

By “the context,” I'm referring to the situation where your child struggles - anything about the situation that is external to your child.

It can be helpful to consider many aspects of the context that might contribute to your child’s struggle. For example, you can consider the...

  • Social demands of the situation that may be tiring, stressful, or confusing

  • Sensory aspects of the situation that may be unpleasant or overstimulating

  • Time aspects of the situation - and whether the time of day or place in the schedule means that your child is particularly depleted, fatigued, or sleepy

  • Attentional demands - how much your child needs to pay attention and avoid interesting distractions

  • Executive functioning demands - how much your child needs to inhibit their impulses, switch between activities, initiate new activities, or organize their behavior and their belongings

  • Demands on emotional regulation (for example, how frustrating, exciting, triggering, or stressful the situation is for your specific child)

  • Whether the situation includes certain items, people, tasks, or other details that your child dislikes

  • Other factors or dynamics that might elicit strong feelings or deplete your child’s energy

As you consider the context, be thoughtful about your child’s capacity.

What's a reasonable expectation for your specific child, given this specific context?

Even if the demands of a situation seem “normal” or do-able, it can be helpful to remember that gifted and twice-exceptional kids aren’t neurotypical, so “normal” expectations may not fit. In my experience, typical ideas about “age-appropriate” expectations often exceed the capacity of an intense or sensitive child in specific situations that are difficult for them.

That's why I encourage you to think about appropriate expectations for your specific child, not children in general, because your child is a very particular kid, not a child in general! 😆 Seriously, though, we all have personal preferences and needs that affect our ability to manage different contexts. When you're thoughtful about your child’s preferences and needs, it's easier to figure out how to set them up for success.

If your kid regularly struggles with this situation, it's likely that something about the situation is too hard for them.

When you read the list above and consider the context, can you identify the aspects of the context that likely overwhelm your child or exceed their capacity? What makes it so hard for your child to be successful in this situation?

Once you've evaluated the context, consider eliminating or adapting the situation to better fit their capacity.

To do this, try to change the context so that the situation is easier for your child.

For example, you could change the time of day or place in the routine so your child has more energy. You could change the location so there is less sensory overwhelm. You could provide more hands-on support with the demands that are tough for them, like giving them cues to redirect when they've lost focus. Or you could incorporate an interest of theirs and eliminate specific details that you know they dislike.

Sometimes, it's most effective to eliminate a specific situation until your child has more capacity.

Here are some examples of how to adapt or eliminate situations:

  • Evening activities - Some kids are too tired by the end of the day to stay calm and manage stimulating evening activities such as parties, play dates, or outings, even to a place they might otherwise have fun. If this is your kid, consider skipping these events, going for a short period of time, or planning similar outings at an earlier time of day.

  • Competitive games and activities - Some kids are easily upset by losing. If this is your kid, consider collaborative or imaginative games for family time instead of competitive games. Or, only play competitive games when your child is well-rested, fed, and has plenty of time, like on a weekend morning.

  • Play dates - Some kids are distressed by sharing their toys and belongings. Their drive for autonomy and their preference for predictability makes it stressful to negotiate sharing, even when they care about their playmate. If this is your kid, consider play dates at a friend’s house or on neutral territory such as a playground, splash pad, museum, or other location.

  • Multiple transitions - Some kids find transitions tiring or overstimulating. These kids might become overwhelmed if their day involves too many transitions and activities, even if they would usually enjoy each activity. Kids with attention regulation challenges, weaker executive functioning, or sensory sensitivities in particular can find transitions depleting. If this is your kid, consider limiting the number of places you go, errands you run, or events you attend each day and focus on the most important ones. Or, schedule in restorative downtime such as quiet reading or unstructured play so your kid can recover.

If you want more ideas like this directly to your inbox, sign up for Gifted Lab Notes, my weekly email with tips and information for parents of intense or sensitive gifted or twice-exceptional (2e) kids.

In my parent coaching program, Support Your Intense Gifted/2e Kid, we talk a LOT about how to alleviate your child's struggles. Kids who are wired differently need a different parenting approach. As parents in my program adjust their expectations and supports, they see that changing the context often helps their child stay more regulated and more connected with them.

 

Here's how one participant described how the program helped her shift her approach:

"Before this program, I wanted to work more effectively with my children and felt I didn’t understand how to because I was missing something. Now I feel empowered to do what works for my kids and to not do what doesn’t work! I’m embracing their neurodivergence and am able to meet my kids where they are with confidence."

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