Family
Tips For Introverted Parents Raising Extroverted Kids
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Last week we talked about some of the challenges and issues involved in raising an introverted child in an extroverted world. But what if the opposite is true? What if you’re an introvert who somehow has managed to give birth to an extrovert? Or two? Parenting—even with all its joys and rewards—can also be unbelievably draining, most especially if you are an introvert with a child whose needs for interaction far exceed your own.

My own family is comprised of three introverts and one lonely extrovert, so it has been a huge shift in education and focus for us to step out of our own preferences and learn to meet that child’s needs. Meeting our introverted child’s needs was clearly a no-brainer, but that extroverted kid—well, he was a different story. It involved a radical internal shift and some extreme self-protection maneuvers.

Again, one of the first things to understand about the extroverted child is that he needs and craves interaction as much as you need and crave solitude. Just as you need solitude to process and think and recharge—your extroverted child needs social interaction to do the very same. That is what his system requires to recharge his batteries and allow him to operate at optimum performance levels. However, to an introvert, the constant chatter as they interpret and process their experiences and thoughts and feelings can feel like an all out assault.

It is important to remember that they are not being overly demanding. At least not by their standards. They will feel drained and overwhelmed if they are kept from being able to socialize and share.

Extroverted children:

  • Are gregarious and outgoing.
  • Love to be around lots of people and other kids.
  • Prefer playing in groups.
  • Do not feel they have fully experienced something until they’ve shared it with others.
  • Talk a lot.
  • Find being alone extremely isolating and difficult.
  • Do not generally enjoy solitary activities.
  • Share. A lot. About everything.
  • Do not really get why anyone might want to be alone.

Being the parents, it falls on us to meet the kid’s needs. But being introverts, we can’t do this effectively unless we replenish our batteries on a regular basis. And clearly our coping strategies will depend on the age of the child: the baby that loves to be held all the time; the toddler who follow you everywhere, a constant stream of toddler-babble; the two year old who seems to be constitutionally unable to let you have two minutes peace, will all have different approaches.

As parents, it is our job to meet their very legitimate needs, but it is also our job to socialize them, and part of that can include learning to respect those who have different needs. Plus, you won’t be able to parent optimally unless you yourself have a chance to collect some energy. By insisting on a small recharging break each day, you may well be a much better, more effective, and certainly saner parent.

Coping Strategies:

  • Be sure your spouse understands and gets the whole introvert/extrovert thing. Their support will be crucial.
  • Create lots of opportunities for your child to interact with others, whether other adults, your extended family, or playgroups.
  • See if you can find another introverted parent who understands your need for solitude and see if you can spell each other for solitude breaks.
  • Do not feel guilty! You are not being selfish in needing this time—it is critical and will make you a much better, more loving, and effective parent.
  • If your spouse is an extrovert, try to let them take up some of the socializing slack. Washing the dishes by yourself might be more rejuvenating than trying to entertain an extrovert for a half an hour before bedtime.
  • Try to find ways to turn other duties/activities into recharging time. Play special music or listen to an especially soothing audiobook on your commute home; choose solitary activities for your exercise time—walking or running or biking rather than working out in a noisy, crowded gym.
  • Do not feel guilty! You are not being selfish in needing this time—it is critical and will make you a much better, more loving, and effective parent.
  • Teach your little extrovert to understand—and respect—others’ need for alone time. Have them do something for just five minutes, and for those five minutes, they cannot interact with you. Help them to build their self-reliance muscle because even though we live in an extroverted world, there will always be times when we have to work alone.
  • Insist on some kind of alone/recharging time every day—whether it is a bath once your spouse is home to take a turn with the kids, or a nap when your kids are napping, or even (horrors!) turning on the television or a DVD for half an hour. Let your housekeeping standards drop a bit and put solitude/recharging time at the top of your list.
  • Do not feel guilty! You are not being selfish in needing this time—it is critical and will make you a much better, more loving and effective parent. (No, this is not a typo–it is just that important to reinforce.)

When my extroverted son was in middle school, he got into online computer games and let me tell you, those were a goldmine! Guilds, leagues, clans, alliances, corporations, agencies, groups, people to talk to—he was able to shift some of his needs for feedback and socializing from his introverted family to his new online community. In fact, this sort of interaction can be critical for extroverted teens who live in small communities or have limited social choices available to them—it’s such a great, positive way for them to reach past their physical boundaries and connect—at that fully engaged, extroverted level—with people with similar interests.

One of the Meyers-Briggs’ biggest uses is in companies that want to help their employees work more effectively together. I think understanding each others’ preferences is equally important in families. As parents, we need to help our kids step outside their own experiences and preferences so they can become fully socialized, interactive beings. What better place to begin than in our own homes?

And yes, I realize that is much easier said than done, but that doesn’t make it any less true. And repeat after me: You’re not being selfish. You’re saving your sanity.

We’d love to hear any great coping strategies or ideas any other geek moms or dads might have. Please share them in the comments!