Today’s world is designed for socially confident and outgoing people, but what happens when your child isn’t either of those things?
Here are eight things you might not know about introverted kids and how you can encourage them to blossom no matter what their temperament is:
1. They can be challenged early on
The pressure for children to be extroverted these days is huge and it starts young. Playdates and birthday parties are often opportunities for a total overload of stimulation and interaction; more children are going to daycare at a younger age instead of staying at home quietly with mum; and many preschools now even expect kids to stand up at least once a week and give a news talk.
On some level, all of this could be considered a good thing because it’s preparing children for the extroverted world we live in (with things like public speaking now being a component of every year of primary school), however for some it can be frightening and completely out of their comfort zone.
2. Introversion is not the same as shy
Shyness is a behaviour that happens in certain situations when you might fear social judgement or embarrassment and it’s something that can pass or you grow out of. By comparison, introversion is a deep-seated character trait that will probably remain for life, where you simply prefer quieter environments. The word ‘shy’ often has negative connotations associated with it as well. Avoid labelling introverted kids as shy as they may start to view their innate quietness and temperament as a negative, when in fact they just need to understand it as a different – not inferior – way of going about life.
3. Their brain works differently
It’s been proven that the brains of introverts and extroverts work differently, so although sometimes temperaments can be shaped through parenting, generally an introvert is genetically wired that way from birth. Instead of using the sympathetic side of their nervous system (fight or flight response), they use the opposite parasympathetic side (rest and digest) and are likely to spend more time in abstract thought and decision making.
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4. They’re not weird or depressed
For a parent who is an introvert themselves, they may not see anything particularly odd about their child’s behaviour; but for many others, they may find it incredibly confusing or frustrating. Sometimes they’re chatty but mostly they’re silent and you don’t know what they’re thinking. Or perhaps they’re hanging back at the park watching others instead of joining in, they might only have a couple of friends, or love spending time alone.
This could be the complete opposite of how you and your partner behaved as children, but so what? It doesn’t mean your child is weird, depressed or anxious if they don’t feel like joining in for ‘pass the parcel.’ If they were outgoing to begin with and then became withdrawn then this might be reason for concern, but otherwise you just need to accept they’re an introvert.
5. Introverts are generally happy
Parents worry night and day about their kids, but a lot of the time it’s unnecessary – as often is the case with introverted kids. You might be freaking out that they don’t have many friends, or that they might be labelled weird if they don’t respond when people say hello; but generally speaking, they’re completely happy and comfortable with the way things are. An introvert might have the best day of their life at daycare even if they didn’t talk to a single soul, so don’t mistake quietness for sadness.
6. Don’t force them to be something they’re not
It might be tempting to try and get your child to ‘snap out’ of this ‘phase’ you think they’re going through and become a super-outgoing little person ready to take on this extrovert-ruled world; but this approach won’t help. Introverts will not respond well to being forced into social situations they don’t like, being made to speak to people, put on the spot or to perform, or being made fun of or embarrassed (who does, really?!). They also don’t like being dragged off to too many activities back to back, or for you to talk over them or for them, such as finishing their sentences if they seem to be faltering.
7. They can achieve great things
Many introverts have gone on to become famous and successful. Albert Einstein, Steven Spielberg, Bill gates, JK Rowling, Hilary Clinton, Meryl Streep, Mark Zuckerberg, Christina Aguilera and Barack Obama are all described as introverts and there’s no denying the impact they have had on the world. An introvert’s super power is achievement and contribution because of their solitary, careful quietness – not in spite of it.
8. You can help them
There are lots of ways to help nurture an introvert to help them be happy and succeed in life. Some of these include introducing them to new people or situations slowly, accepting that they may want to leave a party early or not take part in an activity, not making them feel strange for behaving differently to other children, praising them when they take a social risk and teaching them to stand up for themselves (such as saying ‘no’ if another child takes their toy). Another way to help an introvert is to let them discover and pursue their passions, even if they’re a bit quirky, and ask a lot of questions as they may not always be forthcoming with the things happening in their life.