This article offers in-home tips for supporting twice-exceptional (2e) teens. If you’re unsure whether your child is twice exceptional, please read our article on what it means to be 2e—What Is A “Twice Exceptional” Teen?—for descriptions of common 2e traits.
Parenting twice-exceptional children is a real challenge. If you offer too much support, your teen may become overly dependent on you. If you don’t support them enough, your teen may become discouraged and fall short of their potential. Schools aren’t always supportive of 2e kids, so it’s essential to provide a supportive home environment to help them thrive. Here are ten tips to help you support your 2e teen while still allowing them to cultivate creativity and autonomy:
1. Get to know your child
2e teens often mask their difficulties, so it won’t always be obvious when they need support. Sometimes your teen may struggle internally without your realizing it, or you might wrongly attribute their behaviors to laziness or willful disobedience. Instead of making assumptions, open the lines of communications with your teen so to learn more about their unique needs, interests, strengths, and support opportunities. By welcoming their input with kindness and understanding, you can encourage your child to open up to you when they’re struggling.
2. Let them work at their own pace
Homework time in a 2e household is often filled with frustration. At times, your teen may want to rush through their homework if they have already grown bored of the material. Other times, they may need extra time to process and retain the material. It may also take them longer than other children to express and document what they have learned. Be patient—given enough time and patience, your child will be able to finish the task.
3. Create a safe haven
Twice-exceptional teens must put in enormous effort to meet life’s daily demands. Despite this, people sometimes assume 2e kids lack motivation or just don’t care. If your twice-exceptional teen is often disciplined, bullied, or told to try harder at school, their shame and self-loathing can prevent them from performing at their best. By recognizing your teen’s efforts and validating their struggles, you can create a safe, supportive home environment in which to thrive.
4. Make suitable accommodations
Your teen might complain that their homework is useless, dull, or too complicated. Try to find out what’s coming between them and finishing it so you can help them bridge the gap. If your teen feels overstimulated, allow them to wear headphones or do their homework in a more calming environment. If they would rather be moving around than sitting still and reading, experiment to see whether bouncing on an exercise ball or using a fidget might help them stay focused.
5. Cultivate their strengths
It is a human failing that we often focus on problems while ignoring opportunities. If your teen has been getting in trouble at school or struggling academically, you may be tempted to focus on these difficulties. However, their strengths and interests may not get the attention they deserve (or be noticed at all) if you approach their development this way. A more helpful approach is to celebrate small successes, praise them when they do something well, and expose them to a wide range of experiences that will let them discover and explore new interests. The confidence your teen develops as a result will bleed into other areas of their life.
6. Don’t force them to conform to developmental timelines
If you’re worried about your teen’s development, you may be inclined to steer them away from activities or friendships that seem immature. At the same time, you might prevent your teen from pursuing subjects or hobbies generally associated with adults. Rather than forcing your child to behave like other children their age, allow them to progress at their own pace. Sometimes this may mean slowing down; other times, it may mean skipping ahead.
7. Facilitate their social development
If your twice-exceptional teen has social anxiety or other interpersonal challenges, your instinct may be to intervene every time something goes wrong. While you may indeed have to get involved if your child is being bullied, it isn’t healthy (or even possible) to prevent a twice-exceptional child from experiencing occasional social discomfort. Instead of fighting their battles for them, support their social skills development, encourage them to express themselves, and help them develop problem-solving skills. You can also facilitate new relationships by signing them up for activities outside of school that align with their interests.
8. Teach them practical skills
Don’t allow your teen to become too dependent on you. Instead of always reminding them what time they need to leave the house to catch the bus, teach them how to use a five-minute warning timer on their phone. Instead of creating benchmarks for them for every large research project, show them how to do it the first few times. Then encourage them to try it on their own while you stand by to answer questions. If you’re unsure how to work around certain challenges, consider having your teen work with a psychologist specializing in twice-exceptional teens.
9. Address mental health challenges
Many twice-exceptional teens struggle with anxiety, depression, and other mental health difficulties. Rather than writing these off as an unavoidable part of adolescence, validate your child’s feelings and emotionally support them. If they struggle with anxiety, explain the dangers of perfectionism and discourage them from taking on too many extracurricular projects. If your twice-exceptional teen struggles with depression, encourage them to get enough exercise, eat right, and enjoy hobbies that give them an emotional boost. You may also want to connect your teen with professional support.
10. Tend to your own physical and mental health
Focusing all of your attention on the needs of your twice-exceptional child can be frustrating and exhausting for you, and it isn’t in the best interest of your child. Your own anxiety, depression, and unhealthy coping mechanisms can rub off on your child. Instead of letting your health go by the wayside, set a good example for your teen. Exercise, eat right, and tend to your emotional wellbeing. You might also consider getting therapy or joining a support group for 2e parents if you’ve been struggling. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so it’s important to take care of yourself before attempting to support your teen.
If you’re looking for professional support, Dr. Jenifer Goldman is skilled in helping 2e kids. As our teen counseling specialist, she is especially skilled in addressing the social and emotional struggles of tweens and teens. Book a free 20 minute phone consultation to see how she can help.