Sarah and John, seven year old twins, are just home from a school trip. Sarah, excited to tell her mother about her adventure, rattles off the details of her day and enthusiastically exclaims that she had “the best day ever!” John, on the other hand, stands in the background, does not share anything about the outing, and quietly goes into the kitchen to get a snack.
This scenario may be all too common in some households. What is happening here? Did John not enjoy the trip or is something else going on?
Part of the answer might lie in understanding the differences between introversion and extroversion. Introverts get their energy by focusing inside themselves and need alone time to recharge themselves. Extroverts, on the flip side, seek stimulation outside themselves and prefer to be with others to get their energy.
John, being more of an introvert, may have preferred some time to regroup before sharing the highlights or lowlights of his day.
Research has shown that 75% of individuals are categorized as extroverts. More often than not, their qualities are valued more than those of introverts. Consequently, extroverts like Sarah receive more positive reinforcement from those around them. Introverts like John may often feel out of place, and as a result may need to develop extra coping skills to help them feel good about who they are.
Parents and educators can play an important role in helping children embrace their inner selves. Since introverts tend to need time to process their experiences and do not readily talk about what they are thinking, the adults in their lives may need to reach beyond the surface to discover their many hidden gifts.
Introversion vs. Extroversion
There are significant behavioral differences that distinguish how introverts versus extroverts respond to the world. Introverts prefer internal thinking as a way to cope with the world. Extroverts focus on their social connections and actions as an approach to dealing with life.
Introverts can be overwhelmed by sights and sounds and tend to narrow their experiences, but go deeply into those areas they have chosen to focus on. Extroverts tend to be less sensitive and can take in a broader range of input.
Research indicates that there is a strong biological basis for where people fall on the introversion – extroversion continuum. So while you may find ways to neutralize the more extreme positions on either end of the spectrum, you will not be able to change your child from an introvert to an extrovert or vice versa. It is hard-wired.
Characteristics of Introverted Children
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
Play and the Art of Creativity
Reaching introverted children can be as simple as adding opportunities for creative expression throughout the day. This is a great way to encourage and build on their area of natural strength: being innovative. It can be an incredibly positive experience when children are exposed to many forms of art, music, science, literature, and various physical activities.
However, since introverted children are very sensitive to people, places, and things around them, it is important to not exceed their threshold for outside stimulation. Provide time for them to process each experience before moving on to the next one.
Creative people in many fields are introverts because they are comfortable spending time alone; solitude is a crucial ingredient for innovation. Embrace creativity and reach for the stars.
Daily activities to enhance your children’s imagination:
- Suggest they read something new and unfamiliar, such as a book on a new topic or new genre.
- Ask the question “what else?” often.
- Have them come up with five new uses for familiar objects.
- Play creative word games and puzzles.
- Fill creation box with everyday items to use as art supplies.
- Instead of buying a new game, have them make one.
Success at Home with Introverted Children
Supporting introverted children at home may be challenging at times, especially if you are an extrovert. Typically, they see their room as a safe haven. Allowing a private space for them should be at the top of the list. Build quiet time into their day so they can recharge their batteries, especially if your household is loud and filled with many activities. Share with your children your own personality needs as a parent. It can be that you are an extrovert parenting an introverted child. Share the uniqueness and positive attributes of both approaches.
Courage in the Face of Adversity
Introverted children may be a little more on the sensitive side and not always open to sharing their struggles. You can help your child realize that hardship and bumps in the road are part of life. Practice patience and understanding when your child does not make the best choice. You can face the music together. Introverted children make good use of “me too” or “I’ve been there” stories, if they are told with a “we’re in this together” attitude.
Introverts typically experience more intimate connections and tend to have fewer close friends than extroverts. Contrary to conventional wisdom, introverts are not always shy. They do not necessarily experience social anxiety as some shy children do. Usually, they have good social skills and enjoy people – just in smaller doses and smaller groups, such as one or two people.
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.
Parents can gently encourage their introverted children to go a little beyond their comfort zone in social matters by teaching them how to manage crowds and other highly-stimulating situations. For greater success, carefully select the number of activities you do, limit the length of your stay, and build in down time between events.
Introverts may benefit from assistance in recognizing when they need a break. You can help them find words they can use to excuse themselves from a group, find a quiet spot in the midst of a busy mall to decompress, and develop strategies to re-enter without generating undo attention.
Delight in a Slow Pace
For the sake of your introverted children, and for your own good, slow down. Children can’t think or talk unless they feel they can enter a pressure-free zone. A relaxed, patient pace is just one wonderful goal to have when raising introverts. A rushed and tense atmosphere will drain the oxygen right out of them.
Slowing down will allow your children to bring more of their world to you. Since they are so attuned to their perceptions, they can come up with astonishing insights and perspectives that are really humorous and creative. Let their more observant nature teach you to “stop and smell the roses.”
Awareness and support can be half the battle in educating and protecting introverted children. Parents can help their children accept themselves by talking to them about how they react to the world. Let them know that there is incredible value in being an introvert, as well as in being an extrovert.
Finding empathy and understanding in one’s family, developing useful strategies for making it through a full day, and gaining knowledge of why individuals do what they do will help your introverted child be more comfortable in an extroverted world.
By Nina Gallegos, Certified Parenting Educator
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