Every parent wants to raise a happy and well-adjusted child. It’s not that easy, though. Especially if your child has a different temperament than you.
Your child confuses you: She’s totally the opposite of how you were when you were growing up. As your mother has told everyone again and again, during family reunions, you often forced family members to gather and watch you perform in impromptu “solo concerts” when you were merely six years old. The spotlight never scared you. You craved and enjoyed the attention, even then.
And here you are, wondering why your child is quiet, hesitant and reserved. Instead of wanting to play with other kids, she’d rather sit back and watch in the shelter and comfort of your lap. Sometimes she shyly shares her thoughts with you, other times you just can’t figure out what going on inside her head. She spends a lot of time alone in her bedroom. She daydreams a lot. She only has two friends and doesn’t seem to be interested in making new ones. And what baffles you, even more, is the fact that she seems perfectly okay with it.
Getting Inside Your Child’s Head
Because introverts are so widely misunderstood, knowing how to raise one can be a challenge.
Parenting an introverted child can be confusing if you are not an introvert yourself. That’s because you may not understand what introversion really is, or relate to it, being extroverted yourself.
Introverts have a preference for quiet, for less noise, for less action. It has nothing to do with being shy, depressed, anxious, or arrogant. It has everything to do with what they are comfortable with, and their need to have an environment with minimal stimulation. They don’t talk much, but when they do, the words are meaningful, the questions are important, and the thoughts shared are invaluable.
Introversion is often misunderstood. Kids who are introverts are called shy, nerdy, or bookworms. It is hard to appreciate our introverted kids because they seem so awkward in social situations, sometimes to the point of rudeness. You can’t easily persuade them to kiss Aunt Linda when she comes to visit, even if you’ve made the request beforehand.
Introversion is a personality trait like any other, such as ambition, independence, curiosity or intuition. What we all need to understand is that this is not a problem that needs to be corrected.
Understanding is Key
Your child doesn’t have a personality problem. His only problem is that his extroverted parents don’t have a clue how to raise a child with an introverted temperament.
Take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. It’s quite common for extroverted parents to worry about their introverted children and even wonder if their behavior is mentally and emotionally healthy. But there’s hope.
You can bridge the gap between you and your child and, more importantly, you can strengthen the relationship between you.
Because you can’t change your child’s personality, the best way to help him feel good about himself and to cut down on conflicts between the two of you is to accept who he is. All you need is a little more understanding.
Here are some things you can do to help your child thrive:
- Understand that being an introvert is a biological thing. Each one of us is born with a predisposition toward a personality type. Extroverts are energised by interacting with others and the world around them. Introverts are drained by too much interaction, especially with a big group, and prefer to be one-on-one with people they know well. Although all kids display traits of both types, they innately prefer one style over another. In other words, introversion is not a response to outside influences – it is a personality trait.
- Make them understand that there’s nothing wrong with them. Since extroverts outnumber introverts, introverts often feel there’s something wrong with them, and “if they were normal,” they would be more social. This can’t be further from the truth. It is important that you and your child know that being an introvert isn’t a problem in and of itself. It’s just that we are all wired differently.
- Don’t force your child to be social. How likeable and popular your child is is not a reflection of your own success. Being the conductor of your child’s social life is counter-productive. Understand that introverts are happy with just one or two friends and that the lack of a large group of friends is not necessarily an indication of a socialisation problem. The more pressure that you put on them and the more uncomfortable they are made to feel, the worse off they will be. Allow them to ease into things and keep in mind that not all children are social.
- Praise them for efforts and little successes. Introverted kids often feel different and may be insecure about the fact that they might not like the things their friends do. To build their confidence, it is helpful if we praise them. “ You said hello to Jane today. That’s nice!”
- Don’t overschedule. One activity after another with no time in between for them to recharge can overwhelm your child. Understand that introverts need time to process or even understand if they enjoyed a certain activity or not.
- Respect your child’s desire for time and space to play alone. We live in an extroverted world. Just the very notion of school is an extroverted concept. You take a group of people and throw them into a classroom to be together all day long. Bear in mind that this can be too much for an introverted child. After a day in school, there’s nothing more that she would like than some alone time.
If your introverted child shares a bedroom with a sibling, give your introverted child a private spot in the house she can go to when she wants to be alone. Teach your extroverted kids to respect their sibling’s need for space and alone time.
- Don’t let the extroverts in your family talk over the introvert. Teach extroverted family members to wait respectfully for the introvert to process what she wants to say. Include the introvert in the conversation by directly asking for her opinion. Give her time to answer a question, rather than expect a quick response.
- Reconnect often. Have a one-on-one conversation with your introverted child every week. Be sensitive to the timing, and avoid noisy, distracting locations. Bedtime is often a good time when everyone has settled down for the night. Learn to ask questions to draw out the child; talk about something that interests her.
- Give her time to answer. Introverts mull things over and won’t speak until they’ve decided exactly what they want to say. Respect your child’s slower pace, and don’t finish her sentences. It’s best to allow her to reflect. Asking introverts too many questions makes them withdraw more.
- Give your child space when he’s angry. While extroverts will tell you right away, loudly and clearly, when they’re upset, introverts tend to clam up and leave the room. Give them space to process a disagreement, don’t get all up in their face about it. They need to resolve their angry feelings inside themselves before they are able to talk about them with others.
- Write notes to your introverted child about his strengths and positive attributes. Introverts especially appreciate written words and often reread notes during quiet moments. If your child is old enough to have a phone, texting works just as well. This is also one reason social media works for introverts. They can think first before typing and sending messages – without the added burden of face-to-face vulnerability.
Knowing What’s Important
The most important thing is to embrace the quiet.
Enjoy it with your child and recognise that a lot can be said without any noise. We can learn a lot from the hidden gifts and quiet nature of our introverted children. Remember, they are normal healthy human beings who are just wired differently.
This is a guest post written by M Pimentel
M is a happily married Filipino mother to three wonderful little daughters, ages: 8 years, 5 years, and 4 months old. Her daily life is a struggle between being the Executive Content Director for Project Female and deciding who gets to watch television next. She specialises in creating and editing content for female empowerment, parenting, beauty, health/nutrition, and lifestyle. As the daughter of two very hardworking people, she was brought up with strict traditional Asian values and yet embraces modern trends like Facebook, vegan cupcakes, and the occasional singing cat video.