On the introversion-extraversion personality continuum, introverts get their energy by focusing inside themselves and need alone time to recharge. Extroverts on the other hand, do need stimulation outside themselves and prefer to be with others to get their energy.
An extroverted parent may assume that their child needs the same external stimulation they themselves enjoy, but they would be making a big mistake. Rather understand the traits of the introverted child and what is considered normal behaviour and ask yourself the question: “Is my Child Introverted?” Then respond accordingly.
For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.Jonathan Rauch
Normal Behaviour in an Introverted Child
Introverted children typically:
- Communicate best one-on-one
- Are strong listeners
- Seek solitude for renewal
- Need time to ponder questions before answering
- Often prefer not to share their emotions
- Have high self-awareness
- Learn well through observation
- Are quiet in large social settings
- Prefer to watch a game or activity before joining
- Concentrate deeply
- See inner reflection as very important
- Select activities carefully and thoughtfully
- Can be overwhelmed by sights and sounds.
Although they may at first glance look the same, being shy and being introverted aren't the same thing at all.
The Difference Between Being shy and Introverted
A shy child does not necessarily want to be alone, but is too afraid to approach and interact with other children, whereas an introverted child actually enjoys time alone.
Imagine two children in the same classroom. One child is shy and the other is introverted. The teacher organises an activity for the class and invites everyone to join in. The shy child wants to join the other children but remains at her desk because she is afraid to join them. The introverted child wants to remain at her desk and read a book because she finds being with all the other children stressful.
Shy children can be helped to overcome their shyness by teaching them social skills. But Introverts do not need to be helped because there is actually nothing wrong. Many introverts have excellent social skills, but will need to be alone after engaging in social activities to recharge their emotional batteries. Introversion and extroversion are personality traits and trying to turn an introvert into an outgoing extrovert can cause stress and lead to problems with self-esteem. Introverts can learn coping strategies to help them deal with social situations, but they will always be introverts.
So if you have observed that your child is an introvert what then? There are a few things that you need to know.
What Parents Need to Know About Raising an Introvert
Research varies, but tends to show that 50-75% of individuals are extroverts. Because the qualities of extroverts are valued more than those of introverts in the western world, they tend to receive more positive reinforcement than introverts. As a result, introverts often feel out of place and may need to develop extra coping skills to help them feel good about who they are. Parents can play an important role in helping introverted children to feel good about themselves and embrace their inner selves. I will tell you more about that later.
Introverts tend to have hidden sides because they do not readily talk about their experiences and what they are thinking, so parents may need to make the effort to reach beyond the surface to discover their introverted child’s many hidden gifts.
Parents also need to know that research indicates that there is a strong biological basis for where people fall on the introversion-extroversion continuum. So while they may find ways to neutralize the more extreme positions on either end of the spectrum, they will not be able to change their child from an introvert to an extrovert or vice versa. It is hard-wired. Parents should not try to change them, but should rather embrace the child’s natural preference and support them. Pushing your child to have a more active social life amounts to trying to change a fundamental part of who they are. It sends a message that they aren’t good enough and this can not only weaken their self-esteem but also your relationship with them. So accept them as they are.
This can be challenging for extroverted parents, and the first challenge is to overcome their (the parent’s) own prejudice.
What Parents can do to Support Their Introverted Child
Things parents can do to support their introverted child include:
Create a private space (safe haven) for your child to retreat to. This should be a priority. Introverts need to have time alone. Obviously this private space can be the child’s bedroom, but if they have to share a bedroom then create a space where the child can be alone such as a nook in the house or garden, a tree-house/wendy-house/shed etc. Respect their privacy and keep other family members out.
Introverts who go to boarding school and live in dormitory environments will often resort to “moleing” - burrowing under their duvets (like a mole) with a book or device (phone, tablet etc.) to get away from it all. Let your child know that it is okay to do that sometimes.
Build quiet time into their day so they can recharge their energy, especially if the household is loud and active. Teach children who go to boarding school to build their own quiet time by, for example, spending quiet time in the library or another quiet zone.
Carefully select the number of activities you arrange for your child, limit their duration and build in down-time between events. Don’t be surprised if your child does not want to go out at all and prefers to stay home.
Plan one-on-one activities with your child. Extroverted parents often assume the whole family needs to always do things together but this only ends up being overwhelming for an introverted child. A better approach is to plan some activities that each parent can do alone with their introverted child.
Teach your child how to manage crowds and other highly-stimulating situations.
Work with their strengths. Pushing your introverted child to join groups or clubs they have no interest in is going to have a negative effect. Instead, learn where their interests lie and work with that. Encouraging them to do something they are interested in will produce more positive results. For example, they might excel at individual sports like swimming or cross-country instead of team sports like hockey.
Share with your children your own personality as a parent. It can be that you are an extrovert parenting an introverted child. Share the uniqueness and positive attributes of both approaches. Introverted children need their parents to accept their preferences and communicate to them that there are different types of people – some who enjoy being in large crowds and some who do not. Either way, it is okay.
As a child I suppose I was not quite normal.Charles Bukowski
My happiest times were when I was left alone in the house on a Saturday.
What Parents can do to Help the Introverted Child Feel More at Ease in Social Situations
Normal living means that introverted children will often be exposed to new situations and new people, and it is exactly in these situations that introverts often feel overwhelmed or anxious. As a parent there are a number of things that you can do to help your child feel more at ease:
At social events - If you’re attending a social event, don’t expect your child to jump into the action and chat with other children right away. Introduce your child to new people and situations slowly. If possible, arrive early so your child can get comfortable in that space and feel like other people are entering a space she already “owns.”
Another option is to have your child stand back from the action at a comfortable distance –perhaps near you, where she feels safe – and simply watch the event for a few minutes. Quietly observing will help her process things.
If arriving early or observing isn’t possible, discuss the event ahead of time with your child, talking about who will be there, what will likely happen, how she might feel, and what she could say to start a conversation.
At the playground - If your introverted child wants to play with the other children but isn't sure how to enter the activity, encourage them to take their time easing in. Say something like, "Take your ball and watch those children play. Once you've gotten used to them, you can ask if they'd like to play football with you."
On playdates - Instead of dropping off an introverted child at an unfamiliar home, invite a classmate to your house. After they've played together at home a few times, change the location to the park and then to the other child's house. Introverts can also gain confidence by playing with younger children, since it gives them the opportunity to be the leader.
At birthday parties - Help your introverted child settle in to parties (often overwhelming whirlwinds of activity) by hanging around and gradually disengaging yourself instead of leaving at the first opportunity. When planning your introverted child’s own birthday party, keep the guest list short and the activities to just a few.
At the shops - Let your introverted child see how you handle casual interactions like banking and shopping. When you compliment a bank teller, you're showing your child how to make small talk. When you give your child money to hand to the cashier, they interact with someone new while being supported by you.
Starting a new school - If your child is nervous about starting a new school year, visit your child’s classroom, introduce her to her teacher, and find the bathroom, the lunchroom, and her locker before the hustle and bustle of the first day of classes.
Signs That Indicate an Introverted Child is in Distress
Every child is a unique individual so there is no “One size fits all” list of signs that an introverted child is in distress. That said, as a parent you should be watching for the usual signs that your child is stressed, anxious and unhappy. For example:
- They may be clingy, whiny or crying.
- They may be withdrawn and aloof.
- They will be tired
- They may be irritable
- They may not want to participate and may not want you to leave them.
If this is the case, remove the child from the overstimulating environment as quickly as possible. It could be putting a light blanket over their pram to block out sights and sounds. It could be going to a quieter area at the party and sitting quietly with them (perhaps without talking) or even taking them home.
I was approached by freelance journalist Katherine Graham to give information on this topic for an article in the TFG Club Magazine. I have posted her article on my website under Claire in the Media. You can read her article: Parenting Made Simple: The Introverted Child