By Elaine Spencer, Psy.D. Licensed Psychologist
“She’s finally starting to come out of her shell.”
“It just takes him a little longer to warm up to others.”
“She’s more of a listener than a talker.”
“He likes to take in what’s going on before joining others.”
“She prefers to hang out with one friend at a time.”
“He’s just quiet.”
If you’re using these statements to describe your child, then he or she may be introverted. Parents, especially extroverted ones, often struggle to understand and figure out how to support their introverted child in an extroverted world. What can you do to be supportive of an introverted child and help them be the best individual possible? Here are a few ideas to consider.
If you’ve noticed that your child is introverted and would like to discuss their behavior, then schedule an appointment with Rice Psychology Group today!
Understanding IntroversionIntroversion is part of one’s temperament—traits that are part of you from birth. Click To Tweet
We know that there are significant behavioral differences between introverts and extroverts. Introverts tend to be more reserved and quiet compared to their outgoing, talkative and more impulsive extroverted counterparts. Listening, observing and thinking things through before acting are other attributes of introverts.
How does a child become introverted? The simple answer is that they’re born that way. Introversion is part of one’s temperament—traits that are part of you from birth. In her 2002 book The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Survive in an Extroverted World, Marti Olsen Laney talks about how introverts and extroverts are “hardwired” differently. She explains that introverts and extroverts utilize energy differently because they access different sides of their autonomic nervous systems, with extroverts expending lots of energy (using the sympathetic “fight and flight” side) and introverts tending to conserve energy (using the parasympathetic “rest and digest” side).Introverts seek stimulation through inner thoughts and extroverts do it through the environment. Click To Tweet
Christine Fonseca, author of Quiet Kids: Helping Your Introverted Child Succeed in an Extroverted World, also explains that introverts renew their energy or recharge their batteries through “alone time”, whereas extroverted children recharge interactions with others and activity. Introverts seek stimulation through inner thoughts and extroverts do it through the environment.
Embrace the SilenceIntroverts can be creative, curious, innovative and deep thinkers with amazing imaginations. Click To Tweet
Parents need to accept and cherish their introverted child for who they are. They can do this by sending the message that it’s okay to be introverted and that there is nothing wrong with them. While your child may feel different from their peers, they need to know that they aren’t alone. Many famous people are introverts. In her TED Talk, The Power of Introverts, Susan Cain points out that one-third to half of the population are introverts, including some very successful individuals like Bill Gates and J.K. Rowling. Even Dr. Suess and Abraham Lincoln were introverts!Make it a point to discover your introverted child’s gifts and celebrate them. Click To Tweet
They also have many positive qualities and strengths that make them unique. Introverts can be creative, curious, innovative and deep thinkers with amazing imaginations. They can also develop passions and intense interests and are kind and caring in their friendships. Point these strengths out to your children to let them know that they’re just as special and unique as extroverted kids. Make it a point to discover your introverted child’s gifts and celebrate them. If they have a passion, support them in pursuing it. This will help increase their self-esteem and self-confidence!
Avoid Labeling Your ChildShyness and introversion aren’t the same thing. Click To Tweet
Introverted kids are often misunderstood and are viewed as standoffish, rude or anxious, and many are mislabeled as shy. Shyness and introversion aren’t the same thing. Just because you’re introverted doesn’t mean that you’re shy. Shyness is a behavior caused by anxiety or feelings of awkwardness in certain situations. Introverted children display some of the same behaviors as shy children, but the reasons behind them are different. For example, both shy and introverted children may avoid social situations, however, shy children are avoiding out of fear or anxiety whereas the introverted child may just feel emotionally drained and needs to take a break. Parents should avoid calling their child shy because it has a negative connotation that can be internalized by kids.
Help Your Child Navigate the Social SceneIntroverted children often approach new situations or environments cautiously. Click To Tweet
Introverted children often approach new situations or environments cautiously. They may initially hold back and observe before jumping in because they’re feeling overwhelmed. Teaching your child relaxation techniques and using positive self-talk (e.g. “I can do this”, or “I am brave”) can help them tolerate and work through overwhelming situations. Respect your child’s need to go slowly in approaching new things, but don’t let them avoid all new situations that make them uncomfortable.
Working through a stressful situation, such as going to a large birthday party and realizing that they actually had fun will increase the likelihood that they’ll try it again. Praise your child for taking social risks and teach them to acknowledge their social accomplishments and be their own cheerleaders.
Making FriendsWhen introverted children cultivate friendships, they tend to be deep and close. Click To Tweet
Making friends can be challenging for some introverted children. If yours is struggling, talk about who’d make a good friend to them. Parents can help their child improve their social skills, like going over how to start a conversation or joining and working with a group of kids. Roleplay how to handle social situations with your child. Practicing these skills in activities that they enjoy can help them feel more comfortable, such as inviting friends for a craft playdate or game night.
When introverted children cultivate friendships, they tend to be deep and close. Try not to panic over the fact that your child may only have a couple of close friends. The quality of the friendships are more important than the quantity.
It’s also important to teach your introverted child to stand up for themselves. While introverts may be quiet, they still have thoughts, feelings and opinions that are worthy of being heard. Help them learn to advocate for themselves, express their feelings and learn to set boundaries. Teach them that it’s okay to ask for help when they need it. This may not be easy, but with practice and your support, your introverted children can learn to get their needs met.
Introverted children tend to internalize and keep feelings inside. Remember that after a day at school or big social event, introverted children are emotionally drained and need to seek solitude to regroup. Allow your child to have downtime on their own. Try not to be offended if they want to take a break and play independently in their room or escape into a book. Your introverted child is just trying to recharge so that they can reengage later. Teach relaxation and mindfulness techniques to help them relax. Also teach them how to take care of themselves by identifying, expressing and coping with difficult feelings. Encourage them to give themselves permission to ask for help and support when needed.
Along with the two books I listed above, here are a couple more that I’ve found to be very informative about introversion:
- The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child: Helping Your Child Thrive in an Extroverted World by Marti Olsen Laney
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Helping Your Children be Themselves
As I wrote above, there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert. This is something that your child should understand, but in a world where kids can be very outgoing, it can be hard. That’s why our psychologists want for your son or daughter to know that they’re just as unique and important as any other child. Contact our psychologists in Tampa today to get started!