One of my favorite things to do is to positively reframe. Give me anything your 2e kid did or does, and I’ll find a way to look at it through a positive lens. Contrary to the oft-said sentiment that 2e kids “are lazy,” “don’t work hard enough,” “or “aren’t meeting their potential,” I argue that they work harder, they care more, they want to succeed SO much, but there is something – a lagging skill, a learning difference, or anxiety – standing in their way. To keep your mind on positively reframing, and therefore positive parenting, I recommend ten steps.
- Focus on Superpowers
They are there. Your 2e child has superpowers. Remember when he did that thing way before any of your friends’ babies? He read, or created, or solved, or thought critically? Maybe he demonstrated deep empathy. Remember those abilities. They are rare. They are unique. When we focus on deficits it is to the detriment of superpowers.
As your 2e child grows, these same superpowers somehow become liabilities because of the asynchrony between his abilities and struggles. The kid who is a math whiz is judged for how his other abilities don’t match up. Or he’s bored and acts out in math class and school refuses to give him harder and deeper tasks until he “gets his behavior under control.” His ability to create turns into a chore because he leaves partially constructed projects everywhere. His process isn’t respected and therefore his passion is discouraged, and he feels dejected. His ability to empathize becomes embarrassing for him as he focuses on unfairness or finds it hard to move on until a social/emotional challenge is resolved, and he’s called ‘over-sensitive.’ Don’t let age or phase of life allow you to forget your child’s superpowers. See him for who he is and his amazing abilities right here, right now.
- Reframe Challenges
When you find a behavior or refusal difficult or annoying, remember who your child is. Consider whether your expectations are appropriate for your specific child. Focus on how hard she is trying, and whether her behavior is self-soothing, defensive, or based on an unseen trigger.
- Pause and Give the Benefit of the Doubt
I often tell my clients I’m giving them a gift. I ask them to visualize a huge pause button. Go ahead, accept the gift – but only if you will use it. Resist reacting immediately. Very few things require an emergency intervention in the moment. Take a deep breath and give your child the benefit of the doubt. She does not want to make you mad or annoyed. She does not want to be “the difficult kid.” Instead, ask your child what’s going on? Let her know you see she isn’t her typical self – she seems to need something. Ask, “What do you need right now?”
2e kids usurp a lot of time and space. Even if you think you know exactly what’s going on or what your child needs, listen to what they say. Ask questions. Don’t assume. So often 2e kids are thinking something completely different than what we thought. It’s hard to know all the micro stresses 2e kids experience during the day. Their behavior now may have to do with something that happened hours or even days ago that they are still processing.
- Avoid the DEVIL in the details
Parents of 2e kids are often 2e themselves. That means you likely have a strong vocabulary. But many times, our 2e kids need quiet, or need a break from being talked at. They may need time to process. Avoid using too many words. If you need to communicate with your child when they are dysregulated, try writing a note and handing it to them or gently placing it next to them. Too much talking often undermines your message.
- Reality Check
Is your priority at this moment really the most important thing? If your goals are to strengthen your relationship with your child and increase their self-confidence, is what you are about to say or do going to move you closer to your goals? Are you in a mindset that will engender understanding, kindness, and patience? If not – take a break. Come back, when you are regulated and ready to strengthen your relationship as you navigate your child’s challenge.
- Leave Your Ego at the Door
The most humbling thing you can do is raise a 2e child. If you bring your ego with you as you discuss challenging behaviors, I promise you’ll end up feeling worse. Even if you are thinking, as so many 2e parents do, “I never would have been allowed to talk to my parent this way,” resist reacting from a place of emotion or guilt. Your child likely does not want to disrespect you. He is either responding from an emotional place himself, doesn’t understand your perspective, or isn’t self-aware. Rather than reacting to how you feel, concentrate on the skills your child needs to learn to broaden his awareness of himself and the world around him.
- Pay Attention to Physical Needs
Not meeting your child’s physical leads to dysregulated behavior. Ensure that your child is well fed with a protein heavy diet and hydrated with non-sugar beverages. Pay attention to how often your child moves. If your child needs movement but doesn’t succeed on sports teams, create scavenger hunts and obstacle courses together to get him moving and out in nature. Sleep is imperative for many 2e kids (but not all), so pay attention to how many hours of sleep your child gets and how his mood and behavior correlate to the amount of sleep he gets.
- Don’t Forget Your Needs
Pay attention to your needs; exercise, sleep, alone time, time with people who make you laugh, time doing your passion projects. Leave perfectionism at the door; fifteen minutes of a treadmill or engaging in an activity you love will give you and your brain some much needed downtime. Eventually you’ll increase the amount of time you have, but until then, be intentional about creating time for yourself and utilizing it for something that will regulate you. Avoid scrolling and screens and think about spending time in nature, moving, or creating something.
- Find and Use Humor
2e kids think and feel deeply. They need an outlet and the best way to assuage fears and frustrations is to laugh. Make it a goal each morning to try and get your kid laughing before school. When things are tough and you just can’t believe you are in this situation, find humor. Even black humor can give you respite from your negative self-talk about your parenting or your situation. If you can, practice laughing. Just laugh out loud. See if it’s contagious to the rest of your family. Always have a pun or silly dad joke at the ready, or simply laugh at the craziness that is your day. Not only will you feel better, you’ll role model positive mental health for your kids.
The more you practice positive parenting, the more positive you will feel. As the saying goes, you are running a marathon, not a sprint. So take your time and try to implement these ten suggestions as you sweat, pant, and cramp-up during your particular parenting marathon.