The Elephant in the Room — Re-entry for Gifted and 2e Folks

If all humans can come to one another tabula rasa – giving the benefit of the doubt and without expectations – my hope is that we can gently and kindly go into this next year with minimal trauma and maximum connection.
huge elephant walk in modern office

Humans are resilient. We want and hope for what’s best, or at least a positive outcome. For a year-and-a-half we’ve been expected to pivot, change and be flexible in the face of fear and unknowns. Now it’s time, we think, to go back in person and start our lives again. Gifted and 2e people are not necessarily known for flexibility or ease in transitions. They are, however, well known for empathy, sensitivity, need for meaningful interactions and critical thinking. This combination of strengths and challenges requires a focus on building relationships and bringing kindness to all interactions as we head back while managing the elephant in the room.

What is the elephant in the room?

For 2e parents, adults and educators the elephant may be slightly different, but the way to make that elephant fade is the same. For parents the elephant is how to manage their expectations vis a vis their child’s schooling. Whether parents feel their child experienced a ‘backward slide’ or are concerned because they think the outside enrichment their child enjoyed last year will likely lead to boredom in the classroom, the elephant is comparing their child to where they think their child should be right now. Reminder: the entire world experienced this pandemic and the imperfect school year. I’m not saying parents should not advocate on behalf of their child’s needs in school, what I’m saying is to pause – if there’s anything we learned from the pandemic, it’s that past priorities may not be current priorities.

Another elephant for parents is whether the child will go back in person and stay in person. There’s safety to consider and a concern of not knowing what’s around the corner. There are many – will other kids come back? Are other kids vaccinated? Will the teachers be back? Am I going to be able to pivot again if school closes to be home with my child?

For adults, the elephant in the room may be the fact that they actually prefer the locked-in world. Their typical daily sensory overload was more easily managed. The elephant in the room for my more extroverted clients is the question of “How will I reign myself in when I’m finally able to interact with others?” 2e adults often struggle with trust. Can they trust themselves to communicate their needs. Can they trust others to understand and not judge or assume? They wonder whether they can safely interact in person at work or socially. The introverts have become accustomed to just the right amount of stimulation in their day and being able to easily retreat when necessary. The extroverts are dying to interact and crave stimulation, but know their intensity may manifest in pent up frustration from the last year-and-a-half.

For educators, the elephant is how to differentiate to the varying levels of learners, how to manage fear and anxiety, and what to do when things change. They wonder whether they will have administrative support and a Plan B when things change, as they are likely to. Educators know they will face classrooms full of kids who have gotten used to being at home and all the pros and cons that went along with that experience. They are concerned about how to make meaningful connections and helping students feel safe.

What to Do About the Elephant in the Room

For some, they want to ignore the elephant in the room. They crave going “back to normal.” I’m not sure that’s possible or even advisable. In thinking through the disappointment, lost opportunities, shock and backward slide that everyone experienced, it’s clear to me that the focus must be, above all, on managing expectations and fostering and maintaining relationships. Focusing on kindness and building self-confidence will lead to meaningful interactions and resilience.

Please don’t plan to send your child back to school “the way it was.” resist the expectation that students will filter into classrooms ready to ‘do school’ the way they did two years ago. And definitely, adults – employers and employees, don’t expect the same working conditions and considerations you experienced before.

If all humans can come to one another tabula rasa – giving the benefit of the doubt and without expectations – my hope is that we can gently and kindly go into this next year with minimal trauma and maximum connection.

It’s as though the entire planet experienced eighteen month long sigh. Disappointment, frustration, stress, confusion, and disconnection rued the day. How do we reintegrate taking these experiences into account? We must remember that this was a collective experience. Living through what pulled us apart and made it hard to connect, should be what helps us knit back together.  

If you as a 2e parent, educator or adult experienced frustration, so did that person you’re talking to or sitting next to right now. We have to learn to recognize our own emotions and know that everyone else on the planet experienced a degree of what you’re feeling.

Entering classrooms, as parents or educators, we need to prioritize relationships and connecting above all else. Of course, teachers have a body of work they must move through over the course of the year, but they may very well be more efficient, effective, and likely to reach that goal if they invest the first several weeks in building student confidence and relationships before seriously diving into the material.

We must pay attention to how kids are feeling over what they are learning. Until they feel heard and validated for the emotions they experienced over the last year and a half, they won’t be able to learn. We simply can’t expect our kids to adjust seamlessly when much of their peer exposure for the past 18 months has been through a screen.

When we re-enter our workplaces, as we’ve become accustomed to and maybe even enjoyed not being in the presence of our co-workers, we need to take baby steps. Resist the “shoulds” and “have tos.” Pay attention to your needs, communicate and utilize kindness; kindness toward others but also toward yourself. If you need a break or are overwhelmed, be sure to listen to yourself.

An elephant takes up a lot of space. Help it deflate by addressing head on your struggles and the struggles of your students or employees. Allow that elephant to recede into the background by utilizing kindness and validation. Prioritizing relationships and connection above all else – at least in the beginning of your transition back – will allow that transition to happen more smoothly.

For more resources on transitioning back, here are two free webinars: Ross Center webinar on re-entry

UCLA Back to school anxiety webinar
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Julie Skolnick

Julie Skolnick

Julie Skolnick, M.A., J.D., is the Founder of With Understanding Comes Calm, LLC, through which she passionately guides parents of gifted and distractible children, mentors 2e adults, and collaborates with and advises educators and professionals on bringing out the best and raising self-esteem in their students and clients.

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