How to Talk to Your Kid about Being Gifted or 2e
Tips to help this conversation feel less daunting and more do-able
Many parents want to talk to their child about what it means to be gifted or twice-exceptional, but parents aren't sure where to start or what to say.
It can feel daunting to talk to your child about how their brain works, for many reasons:
Most parents have never heard giftedness or their child’s exceptionalities described in a clear, compassionate way, so they have no model about how to start this conversation.
In our ableist and often anti-intellectual culture, it's often considered taboo to discuss disability and intelligence.
The medical model views neurotypes such as autism and ADHD as disorders instead of natural differences - and parents don’t want to share this harmful message with their kids, for good reason.
No wonder parents feel timid about discussing giftedness and twice-exceptionality with their kids!
Here’s why it’s important to have this talk, though - most gifted and twice-exceptional kids have already noticed there is something different about them, compared to their peers.
It’s extremely helpful to give your child language to understand their experience.
Without a narrative to understand themselves, intense or sensitive gifted kids may worry they are strange, lazy, irresponsible, unlikeable, weird, conceited, or even stupid.
By giving your child accurate, compassionate language about their giftedness and twice-exceptionality, you can help them understand themselves and their wiring in a positive, realistic way. For example, a child can learn “My brain has a hard time keeping track of my belongings” instead of “I always lose my stuff because I’m irresponsible.”
To make this talk feel more approachable, try these ideas:
(1) Integrate your comments into daily life. Instead of conceptualizing this as a one-time conversation, think about integrating comments into daily activities and conversations - during dinner, while talking in the car, while playing games. You can revisit these ideas again and again as the opportunity arises.
(2) Use descriptive language, not just jargon. Use accessible, clear language that will resonate with your child's experiences. I think it’s often helpful to share accurate names with children, like gifted, autism, or dyslexia. By combining technical terms with a clear description, you give your child the words they need to make sense of the strengths and challenges they’ve already noticed. Read below for some examples.
(3) Use descriptions to admire your child, without over-praising. Don’t be shy about noting your child’s positive characteristics - it feels good when someone notices our strengths! By focusing on descriptions, you can avoid over-praising your child or inadvertently pressuring them to “perform.” For example, instead of “You’re so smart!” try something like, “That’s a complex maze and you figured it out!”
(4) Use descriptions to validate your child’s challenges, without avoiding or minimizing their struggles. Many parents avoid discussing their child’s challenges because they worry their child will feel self-conscious. But if we avoid naming a child’s challenges, the child might develop shame about their unnamed difficulties or might minimize their struggles instead of sharing or self-advocating. When you describe your child’s challenges in a validating, compassionate way, you help your child develop a positive identity, even when things feel hard.
Here are some examples to kickstart your own ideas:
Strong verbal abilities: “You pick up new words all the time - your brain is like a vocabulary sponge.” “Ha, what a great pun! It’s fun to hear you play with language.”
Strong fluid reasoning abilities: “You’re great at figuring things out and finding patterns.” “Wow, you figured out a really successful strategy for that game.”
Very high IQ: “You might have noticed you tend to learn things more easily than other people in your class.” “I wonder if you got frustrated at school today because you didn’t feel like you were learning very much.” “It feels lonely when the other kids don’t understand your jokes.”
Emotional intensity: “You feel your feelings really deeply, with your whole heart (or body, depending on the kid).” “Yeah, sometimes everything just feels terrible.”
Dysgraphia / learning disability in written expression: “Writing with a pen or pencil is really uncomfortable for your hand - that’s your dysgraphia that makes it uncomfortable to write. I can understand why you’d be stressed out during a test with a lot of writing.” (This would also be a good opportunity to advocate for the use of a computer at school.)
ADHD: “Your ADHD means that your brain has a harder time focusing on something that’s not interesting to you. But when you’re really interested, your ADHD helps you focus for a long time and go in-depth.” “I know it feels impossible to get off the iPad - they literally design those games to keep your attention as long as possible!”
Autistic: “You have a really logical, analytic mind and you like things to make sense.” “Yes, good eye! You often notice little details that other people don’t notice.” “It must have felt overwhelming when your mom and I were angry at each other today - I know you pick up on our feelings even when we’re not aware of it.”
Sensory sensitivities: “Your ears and brain are sensitive to sounds - sometimes loud noises or busy places hurt your ears or feel overwhelming, even if they don’t bother other people.” “Ugh, they served tuna salad today? I know you hate that texture.”
By describing your child’s gifted and twice-exceptional characteristics during everyday opportunities, you’ll help your child build a stronger understanding of themselves and how their brain and body work.
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 supporting your intense or sensitive gifted or twice-exceptional (2e) kid.
Many parents aren’t sure what to say to their child about giftedness because the parents have never learned a clear definition of giftedness or how it relates to intensity. In the Gifted Learning Lab’s group coaching program for parents, you’ll learn a new way to understand gifted intensity. Based on this framework, you’ll learn guiding principles and tons of customizable strategies to support your intense, gifted kid so they feel good about who they are and you feel confident you’re helping them thrive.