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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!

20 Comments
Andrea Schwalm
Andrea Schwalm

April 21, 2011 9:19 am Reply

We absolutley have a 3 introverts/1 extrovert paradigm in my household. I used to wail about how my younger son seemed to mediate reality through talking: IT’S NOT REAL UNTIL HE TELLS ME ABOUT IT FOR A HALF AN HOUR! The older he gets, the more independent HE becomes, the better a parent I become. And yes: online computer games became my saving grace, as well.

    Jason W.

    April 21, 2011 10:20 am Reply

    “IT’S NOT REAL UNTIL HE TELLS ME ABOUT IT FOR A HALF AN HOUR!”

    Bwahaha! That seriously made me laugh out loud. That describes my wife to a tee. She’s very much an extrovert, and I’m very much an introvert, so things sometimes get interesting around our house, haha. Our son and daughter are still pretty young (3 and 2, respectively), but I have a feeling our son is going to be an introvert like his dad and our daughter is going to be an extrovert like her mommy, so things are probably going to get a lot more interesting as they get older.

Tristan

April 21, 2011 9:45 am Reply

Wow, what a timely piece. I’ve been muddling over this for quite some time now, as my spouse and I are both introverted and our 4-year old daughter is very much not. She’s a very independent extrovert and while we enjoy the same things, we tend to enjoy them in different ways. It’s really hard to balance BOTH of our needs though it is doable. You give some GREAT advice regarding this and it is much appreciated.

Ali Jade

April 21, 2011 9:54 am Reply

Both of the introverted/extroverted articles have been really informative, and definitely entertaining. I’m expecting my first child in June, and this has helped relieved some of my worries about what to do if I have an introverted or extroverted child. Thank you for posting this!

Peggy

April 21, 2011 9:58 am Reply

No suggestions, just more thanks for this excellent post. As moms, sometimes we need to be reminded from outside sources that it’s okay to take time for ourselves to recharge. At least I know I do. It’s not being selfish-it’s important to make us better and more effective parents. Thank you again-these have been so informative and well written!

Melis

April 21, 2011 10:47 am Reply

I’m a mom of four, two introverts and two extroverts. The preschool I have for the very extroverted three year old has been wonderful. Five mornings a week she gets social interaction and attention that she craves from a new outlet; and it also helps intoverted mom have a conversation focus to talk with her for the rest of the day (what did you learn? What songs did you sing? Who did you get to play with?)

Hege F.

April 21, 2011 11:38 am Reply

I think your advice makes sense, most of all the part about ‘Do not feel guilty’. I think that whatever your need (being alone for a while or getting out of the house, seeing people; having a paid job, or staying at home with kids), paying attention to your own needs and making sure they’re met, at least to some level, is abolutely essential to being able to take care of kids. Often, in making sacrifices, we expect something back. AND the sacrifices we make may not even be what the kids need the most. I think if we want them to learn to take care of themselves, we need to show them that taking care of oneself is legitimate. And where better to start, then by being good examples?

That said, I still can’t get my head completely around the introvert-extrovert dichotomy. I’m born and raised as an extrovert. I married an extrovert (or so I thought), I’ve given birth to two extroverts (sort of). My best friend is an introvert, she tries her best to explain it to me.

My husband and I have both been through periods of depression, we’ve both come out of it far less extrovert than we entered it. Also, we care for a kid with special needs, so our resources are quickly and frequently drained. So sometimes I really crave social contact, while I realize very quickly that I am ready to go home by the time others empty their welcome drinks…

So what does that make me, someone with the social needs of an extrovert, and the abilities of an introvert?

Thinking back, I realize that I never learned to enjoy my own company as a kid (except when reading, I devoured books). When others were around, I felt I needed to constantly pay attention. I never wanted to leave or go to bed, afraid to miss out on anything interesting or fun. It was a constant alertness that I was mostly able to keep up with. But at times, I wasn’t, got tired, grumpy, stressed out.

I think by teaching kids to respect other people’s needs, like you do, you do them a favour. Equally, by helping them find ways to quietening down sometimes, being on their own, you’re providing them with skills they may increasingly need later in life. Now, I’m less sure whether introverts would similarly benefit from stretching outside their comfort zones. My introvert best friend says ‘NO’, and I can easily see why. My son, extrovert as he is, is hypersensitive to noise and to certain scents. We’re about to try out desensitizing, but with a very carefully designed program (by experts). By just pushing it, I’m sure we’d only drain him.

I guess what I’m saying is that there might be a continous landscape, not just a single scale (introvert, extrovert), that how intro- or extrovert we are might even depend on general stress level, self esteem, life stage. I certainly dropped several notches on the extrovertness when my life conditions changed. And other factors may contribute: allthough I consider my son an extrovert, he’s on the autism spectrum and has trouble making eye-contact, being around large and noisy crowds, being exposed to certain scents, figuring out complex social rules. All of which makes social life difficult and demanding. I consider it my job to shield him, limit exposure to levels that allow him to enjoy social life. Because, unlike many on the spectrum, I know that he really, really craves contact ;-)

    rockinlibrarian

    April 21, 2011 6:45 pm Reply

    I think there’s probably a continuum too– or even more so, there are different ASPECTS of introversion/extroversion that can be more or less obvious in different people. For example, my husband is the kind of introvert people don’t actually believe is an introvert– loud, outgoing, talkative– but he’d much prefer a quiet evening at home to ANY sort of socializing. I on the other hand am much more classically an introvert– I’m also shy on top of being quiet– and though I also prefer a quiet evening at home, I do like to go out to social get-togethers occasionally, MUCH more than my husband does. Granted, I spend most of my time at such things eating and people-watching, but still, I crave them much more often than my husband, who tries to avoid them entirely.

    Then there’s my probably-extrovert child– just turned two, never stops talking (talked AT ALL WAY before her older, introvert brother, did– and her mom way back when too), always needs to be the center of attention. But she DOES love solitary pursuits– looking at books and coloring are probably her two favorite activities.

    About the main topic: I think this talk of extroversion has helped me understand my mother in law a little more. It always BUGS me that she cannot call, give me whatever information she needs to give me/ask me whatever question she has, and then get off the phone. WHY do I need to hear ALL the details of EVERYTHING she had to do today and still has to do and ALL the people she talked to or needs to talk to and WHY does she have to tell me people’s long personal stories every time she mentions them? Ah. It’s an extrovert thing. She doesn’t ACTUALLY expect me to REMEMBER all this (or care).

    zel

    April 23, 2011 9:05 am Reply

    To Hege F., I can really understand your confusion and it makes sense that there seems to be a spectrum of introversion and extroversion.

    I was raised in a very extroverted manner and very early on valued social interaction because of my upbringing. But I remember times in my life when I was young and got SO frustrated because I did not have my own space and felt that my boundaries were constantly infringed on. It got so bad because I did not understand myself nor did my parents and our relationship is strained till this day :(

    The turning point for me came when I finally realized that I was an introvert (I had always assumed I was an extrovert – I am loud, talkative and do well in social situations) and it was so liberating to NOT feel guilty for wanting to be alone. My batteries can only recharge when I am alone and I really identify with both articles on introverted children!

    Having said all that, I am still grateful that I was raised an extrovert because it gave me skills that I probably would never have gotten if I was not pushed out of my comfort zone.

    With regards to having an extroverted child with autism, I have to say that I see lots of autistic children who are extroverts in my line as a pre-school educator. The fact that they have autism does not make them crave attention and love any less than typically-developing children. Yes, their autism may make it difficult for them to interact in social situations but many of my students with autism would do anything for a hug or a kiss! Seems ironic, but when I see students like that, I throw everything I’ve learnt about autism out of the window and just go with the flow…

BunchFamily

April 21, 2011 12:55 pm Reply

Very thought provoking. We thought our readers would enjoy this article as well so we linked to it from our site at http://www.bunchfamily.ca/news-roundup-april-21-war-happy-meals-mommy-wine-gaga-weird-al.
Thanks!

Ellen Henderson

April 21, 2011 10:09 pm Reply

I can’t tell if my son is introverted or extroverted yet (he’s only 3), but he definitely has that constant toddler-talk thing going on. He’s able to entertain himself with games and books pretty well, but he prefers it when we’re doing whatever he’s doing.

But as a definite introvert, I so appreciate the reinforcement about not feeling guilty about meeting my own needs. I have a whole bunch of coping strategies, including working outside the home (because my job gives me some much-needed alone time with the door of my office shut), trading off five-minute breaks with my husband in the evenings, and even deciding that one kid is enough for us. And I’m learning to let go of any guilt and accept that these things help me be the best, most “present” and engaged and loving mother I can be.

Ryan

May 7, 2011 1:46 pm Reply

My problem is that I am the only one of four that is introverted. To make matters worse, I haven’t had alone time in 10 years. When I mow the lawn, my wife is asking how much longer it will be do that I can watch the baby while she takes a shower (my daughter being outside with me). On my commute home, I inevitably get a text asking me to stop by the store. If I elect to attempt alone time, my wife accuses me of being an “unplugged” father. If I then attempt family time, I resent all of them and get grumpy. I haven’t skied since 1999, I haven’t gilded since 2002, I have spent 12 nights away from my daughter in her life, 9 of which with my wife. I have an office at home, unfurnished as it is not a “priority.” In real life, being an introvert in an extroverted world makes u a failure of a father.

    R.L.

    May 11, 2011 9:00 pm Reply

    Yikes, Ryan! Your situation sounds dire! First things first, we need to educate your wife on what exactly an introvert IS, and why you absolutely need a little breathing room.

    Parenting is so, so hard, and so much of what we used to love to do does end up having to go by the wayside for a couple of years–but not our very, most basic battery recharging needs!

    Have you wife take a look at the HumanMetrics site (www.humanmetrics.com). It has online type tests, as well as great summaries of the different types, AND, a section on relationships. This Psychology Today article is also a good starting point: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201008/revenge-the-introvert

    Good luck on getting some alone time! And you are NOT a failure of a father–just living with as-yet-uneducated people regarding introversion.

christina

December 20, 2011 5:51 pm Reply

I am a single parent to a 13 year old extravert, my only child. I am about as introverted as they come with me being an only child myself. I require solitutude more often than not. My daughter can not relate and I feel really bad when I cannot interact with her as she wishes. I usually have one big burst of extraverted activity for an hour or so daily and it I completely draining.

Pat

January 16, 2012 7:00 pm Reply

I’m so glad I came across this article. All points hit home. Like Christina (above me :-)) I am a single parent, though to an 11 year old extraverted boy. I am an introvert; always have been and always will be. Nothing wrong with that and in fact I love that about me. However, as my little man gets older it’s becoming a problem as he wants to “burst” when I just want to “cocoon” – best way I can explain it. He’s constantly wanting friends to come over or play over at theirs – my worst nightmare: other people’s kids + having to interact with their parents. His demands are not his fault, I know, as he wishes to just be him, as much as I wish to just be me, but it’s becoming a problem as I just don’t have the energy to “fake” it anymore. The constant trips, the never-ending games (I don’t have the energy to play Connect 4, Hangman, Operation AND Guess Who in the same day), the constant chatter, the constant requests from his friends to come over. I’m exhausted and do feel bad, like maybe I’m being a lousy parent.

He used to play football which was great as I would sit peacefully on the side lines whilst he got all the attention and interaction he needed. But he soon got bored of that and moved on to skateboarding. Same thing happened. These activities favoured us both – he gets to be “busy” whilst I get to sit in peace and watch.

I don’t know what to do. I get nervous at picking up time as I know I’ll be bombarded by some other extraverted kid asking if my son can come over of if they can come over to ours.

*Sigh*

I have my son, one best friend who is my rock and a close family, and that’s all I’m need to be happy. However, that is not enough for my son so I constantly feel like I’m failing him. Perhaps that’s why I over compensate by buying him things. Hmmmm…?

    Meg

    March 15, 2012 8:29 pm Reply

    This so resonates with me! I have a six year old son who is super extroverted…always talking, very physically active, does not play well alone, craves physical touch etc. Meanwhile I am about as introverted as they come. My job requires me to interact with people pretty regularly so when I get home I crave quiet and solitude. My son craves my time and attention. I love him but it makes me feel crazy sometimes. I have to fight the urge to yell “be quiet and stop touching me”! And as a single parent passing him off to the other parent for a break is not an option.

    I think us introverted mothers of extroverts need a support group. Preferably one that would not require any real group interaction of course….

abnop

February 4, 2012 4:58 pm Reply

hi!!!

Teddy Talley

March 19, 2012 1:06 pm Reply

Me, my husband and my daughter are all introverts, although I am a borderline extrovert. (I do get energized being around people but after a few hours, I am exhausted and feel almost like I’ve been drugged, mentally.) My 5 and a half year old son, however, is an EXTREME EXTROVERT. It’s such a relief to realize that he’s not “weird,” he’s just different. It’s also good to know that the three of us need to be recharged in order to meet his needs. My husband especially as he is on the other end of the spectrum from my son!

Brian

February 11, 2014 3:17 pm Reply

Ok, I’m going to vent here because I haven’t really talked with anyone except my wife about this.
My wife and I are both introverts who have 4 VERY extroverted children. This may not seem like a big issue to some, but it has literally brought me to (what feels like) the brink of insanity. Over the years my nerves have been fried and I’ve developed a stutter in my speaking. It makes me feel physically sick to be bombarded with this constant interaction. My wife deals with it better, having grown up with a very extroverted mother, but still needs time alone so we switch off taking breaks. Obviously we love them very much and put so much effort into our parenting, but it has been very exhausting keeping up with the demands they make for our attention. We tell ourselves that chatty kids are happy kids, but it comes at a cost to us. We eat in a different room than them and that saddens me because that to me is traditionally when families catch up with each other on life…but it becomes an all out talk fest. Not a productive give and take conversation, but incessant chatter. We have gone so far as to move our room to the other end of the house…which has been a life saver, aside from them talking to us through the door.
I’ve referred to it as verbal assault, because that’s how it feels to me at times…just being assaulted with non stop words! My wife and I have an amazing marriage, and literally the one of the only arguments we have is over this issue. We’ve talked about separating so that we’d both have breaks from time to time but it’s just not realistic.
We’ve talked to them about this over the years, but in the end it is who they are.
When our older children came of babysitting age, we’ve decided that our sanity and relationship is a priority so we started going out on more of a regular basis, to restaurants, bars, the library, the gym, even grocery shopping dates. It’s during this time that we get to recharge our batteries with even keeled conversations…or silence.
I welcome any feedback you may have.

Rachel Astarte Piccione

February 12, 2014 12:57 pm Reply

Hi, Brian.

I know exactly how you feel. I am a life-long introvert and have a nearly four-year-old son who is a very vibrant, intelligent, extrovert…who is stubborn as all get out. (I’m also going through a divorce from my husband, who is also an extrovert.) There simply is no talking to my son about real solitude. I feel like I’m invalidating his very soul when I need to spend time alone, which is a lot!

I’m a writer, and my book “Celebrating Solitude” attempts to deal with some of these issues — particularly the importance of beginning a solitude practice. Perhaps you’ll find it helpful. Here’s an excerpt that deals specifically with families:
http://www.elephantjournal.com/2014/01/need-time-alone-start-a-solitude-practice-with-your-family-rachel-astarte-piccione/

Best of luck.

Warmly,
RA

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