It’s not easy being an introvert in an extrovert world–especially when you’re a kid. It is even more difficult if none of the adults in the kid’s life recognize that the child is an introvert. This doesn’t happen only when the child’s parents are extroverts, but also with introverted parents who have never understood their own introverted nature.
I was in my early thirties when I discovered that there were such beings as introverts, and that I was one of them. Suddenly, so much of my quirky, odd, misunderstood behavior had meaning. There was nothing wrong with me, it was simply that being around people drained my personal batteries. I wasn’t shy or lacking in self esteem or even anti social; I merely needed solitude to recharge. So much of my life and my own behavior became clear to me! So of course, being a mom, the second thing I did after discovering I was an introvert was tested my kids to see if they were as well.
One was a very pronounced introvert while the other was an extrovert. Talk about built in sibling conflict!
There are a lot of misconceptions about what being an introvert actually means. It does not mean shy, or socially anxious, or socially backward, or anti-social–although I would venture to say that a number of those characteristics can occur when an introvert is pressured or forced to behave in an extroverted manner.
Quite simply, introversion is an explanation of where an individual draws their energy; from solitude or from the company of others. Those who recharge their batteries through solitude are introverts. Those who recharge by being with others are extroverts. These differences are hardwired into us and affect everything from how our memories work to how we process information, where we focus our attention, how we communicate and even how we use our bodies. Introverts are, in the words of Carl Jung, interested in “the inner life of the mind.”
Funny he should say that because the theory of introversion and extroversion came primarily from Jung and his work on psychological types and temperament. Jung (an introvert) believed we are born with specific preferences that, for the most part, do not change as we grow.
Studies estimate that introverts make up only 20-30% of the population, so it is probably no surprise that we are misunderstood. This is made even more difficult for us parents in that our kids can’t tell us they’re introverts–they have to trust that we’ll figure it out on our own.
It is probably not surprising that a fair number of geeks are also introverts. Part of being a geek involves having a strong, sustained, deep interest in something–and that is often a trait of introverts.
Not sure if you’re an introvert? Here’s a great, quick, online assessment you can take.
Clues Your Child Might Be An Introvert:
- They are very, very good at entertaining themselves for long periods.
- Seems exhausted after parties or social gatherings. Needs down time.
- They have one or two close friends and don’t feel the need for more.
- You have to pry information out of them, such as how their day was or if they had a good time at their friend’s house.
- They have a very highly developed sense of personal space and are disturbed when it is not respected.
- They are a very private person.
- They do not like to have to participate in classroom discussions or be called upon for an answer.
- Hate making mistakes in public.
- Enjoys their own company.
- Does not understand the need for small talk.
- Tires easily in large groups or crowds.
- Tends to withdraw from large social gatherings.
Note: many introverts can actually do quite well in large gatherings or social situations. Introversion is a spectrum ranging for those expressing a strong preference for being alone to those who only need solitude to recharge before venturing once more into the crowd.
Signs of introversion can show up very early in life, often first making an appearance in the first year. As babies, introverts can be reluctant to be held by strangers, are easily overstimulated at the grocery store or at the park, get fussy when their personal space is invaded.
As parents of introverts, we have three important tasks: 1) We need to understand and accept their need for solitude, 2) Help our child understand her own needs, and 3) Act as advocate for our child with other adults or in other situations until she develops the skills to do that herself.
Introverts do a lot of internal processing and reflecting, recharging their spent batteries with solitude and quiet time. If they do not get sufficient doses of this recharging time, their behavior, performance, and spirit will suffer. They will not have the energy they need to learn new things, take new risks, explore, develop, and thrive.
In addition to alone time, introverts need physical space, some place they can go where no one else can interrupt them or make demands on them while they recharge. It can be a room of their own, or if that’s not possible, a curtained off area of a joint room, a special, cozy corner of the house, someplace that feels safe to them and not prone to random interruptions by other members of the household.
One of my sons’ early elementary teachers (clearly an introvert herself!) told all the students in her class to imagine they each had a big invisible bubble around them and that it was their job to respect each others bubble and not get close enough to “pop” it without permission. Not only did I love this, but all her six year old students were able to understand that concept. This personal space issue is so true of introverts! If a child complains, “He’s looking at me,” or “Her placemat is touching mine,” or “That’s my spot on the couch,” chances are that child is an introvert. Occasionally, introvert children have such a high need for having their space respected, and so little help from adults in maintaining this right, that they can end up defending this space by pushing or hitting other kids. To uninformed adults, it can be seemingly for no reason, but oftentimes space is the heart of the issue. It’s important to be mindful that these are very real emotional needs they have. Not having them met detracts from their ability to move effectively in the world.
But make no mistake; there are a lot of upsides to being an introvert! We are independent, self reflective, deep thinkers, excellent communicators, quiet achievers, and excel at one on one connections with people. We make excellent artists, scientists, psychologists, counselors, poets, writers, architects, mathematicians, historians, engineers, computer scientists, teachers, and designers, among others.
Also, if your child is an introvert, she is in very good company. Some famous introverts include: A. A. Milne, Albert Einstein, Anne Lamott, C. G. Jung, C. S. Lewis, Garry Trudeau, William Shakespeare, Katie Couric (that one surprised you, didn’t it!) Lance Armstrong, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey, Rene Descartes, Sir Isaac Newton, Socrates, Susan B. Anthony, Charles Darwin, Warren Buffet, Jane Goodall, Thomas Edison, Dwight Eisenhower, Abraham Lincoln. (And look at how many geeks are on that list!)
Some Tips For Helping Your Young Introvert:
- Give him plenty of alone time.
- Respect his need to not talk.
- Make sure he has a private place he can retreat to when needed.
- Teach his siblings and other relatives to understand and respect his need for solitude.
- Give him the time he needs to grow accustomed to new people and situations.
- Protect him from a world that might not recognize just how valuable his introverted traits are and help him see them as the strengths they are.
33 thoughts on “Are You Raising An Introvert?”
Wonderful post. I wish my parents had something like this to read when I was a kid.
I think pre-schools should include articles on this kind of stuff in their newsletters–it would go a long way to educating everybody on this issue.
We’ve got a very opposite problem in our house. Myself and my husband are both introverts and so is one of our twin daughters. Her sister however is a dedicated extrovert and thrives on people and attention. It’s very frustrating for all of us when the rest of us are ready for some down time and all she desires is more attention and playtime. Thankfully we have two housemates who are willing to step in and give the rest of us a few minutes to recharge before unleashing her on us again.
Oo, lucky on the two housemates who can help out with your extrovert, Robin! And that’s going to be my next article: tips for introverted parents raising extroverts! Not an easy task. 🙂
I’ll keep my GF posted on that one! My son is definitely an extrovert, me I’m probably somewhere in the middle. An ENTP according to the MBTI. I recognized some of the intro/extrovert definitions from the MBTI literature. Was that your inspiration?
Thanks you for posting this today, I needed it. I’m married to an extrovert and raising one as well and was having a hard time with it this morning as my little one is having her first sleep over and I didn’t count on her needing space.
Thanks for timely reminder!
introverts, not extoverts. I need more coffee!!
So glad the timing worked out so well! And good luck with the sleep over. 🙂
What I find so interesting is you could never find this anywrhee else.
Thank you for the accurate def of introvert! I am a chatty gal but an introvert…it confuses many people because they assume I am an extravert because I am a talker but I need down and quiet time to feel energized. I enjoyed this blog a ton!! Thank you again!!
I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me, “But you can’t be an introvert! You’re so friendly!” Educating them is the only solution. 🙂
Thank you very much for sharing this article. We have twin sons, and one is clearly an extrovert, while his brother is quite an introvert. Just because someone, adult or child, likes time to themselves, it does not make them “socially awkward” or “weird”. And thank you for posting the Jeung personality assessment tool. It actually gave me some more insight into my own personality. Thanks again-what a great blog to read on a rainy saturday morning!
So glad the article spoke to you, Peggy! And how funny to have twins be opposites like that. I’m guessing fraternal twins?
We think so-they look very different, but have the same blood type. There is a small chance they are identical, but it would be quite a surprise.
Well done! This kind of information should be required reading for any parent.
I’ve always liked the “Where do you get your energy from?” question as a determinant of introversion vs extroversion. Both my daughters are introverts and need time to themselves to recharge, but one of them is definitely more people oriented than the other and isn’t afraid to introduce herself to strangers, but is still clearly an introvert.
An extension of that definition is that extroverts require outside input to process. They freely take in whatever’s going on around them and use that to process as they go. Introverts need to remove themselves from outside influence or create an environment (social, emotional, physical etc) they’re fully comfortable in to be able to process.
Staci, yep, that energy question really is at the root of it all–it trumps all other markers and indicators. And I really like your explanation of how extroverts process. As introverts, we need to be mindful of that because it is so foreign to us.
Thank you for this post. I wish my parents could’ve read this when I was a kid. I lived in a home that prized extroversion, and I was constantly pushed to “Talk more!” or “Mingle more!” in very draining social situations. It was very hard hearing how “abnormal” my need for solitude made me. I’m still struggling with that, actually, so thank you for this post, and for the reminder that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting some space and quiet.
Oh OUCH, Rachel! I’m cringing for you. That sounds very, very painful.
You might also enjoy this post (and want to print it out to hand to your family and friends.)
Excellent post! I’ve had to do some educating with school personnel for my twins, one who is an extrovert and one an introvert. Basic things like “a time-out alone isn’t really a punishment for an introvert — it’s a reward.” My son LOVES time outs in school, my daughter (the one extrovert in our family) HATES them.
The energy-thing is very malleable. If I’m with a large group of people who I think of as “like me” such as a club I participate in, I can get recharged from it, but even a small group of non-similar people will be draining and difficult.
Ha. Excellent point, Cynthia, about time outs NOT being a punishment for introverts…
What you say is also true about introverts being able to do well in groups that they consider to be their ‘tribe’.
My son definitely likes being alone and is really pesky whenever we attend gatherings. He does not have any close friend other than his own brother…making him an extreme extrovert, I think. However, he is also somewhat claustrophobic and does not like staying in his own room (which is a good-sized room) except to sleep. This is where he differs from your description of an introvert that needs recharging in a private space. He likes to stay in open areas like the living/dining room or the cafeteria of the school, quietly working away or playing on his computer. What does this mean?
I meant…an extreme introvert. Another point of departure is his being clumsy, forgetful and lack of independence. I almost think of him as being autistic to an extent.
Oh Dee, that’s tough! And I am by no means a qualified professional. Some things to keep in mind though are that introverts do like a lot of processing time and they do sometimes recharge in the presence of one trusted individual–such as a parent.
Perhaps his playing nearby other kids is a way he keeps himself from feeling isolated? I just don’t know…
I saw a great definition of introverts that suggested that we don’t feel comfortable until we’re in spaces we’ve created or defined as comfortable for us. This is one explanation for the relatively large number of introverted actors. The stage is a place they’re comfortable so it’s ok. Or in my case, I’m much more comfortable speaking in front of a large crowd of strangers than interacting with them one on one. So I’d say in your son’s case, he’s found ‘his’ space somewhere else and that’s perfectly fine.
My daughter is probably an introvert. She shuts down when anyone outside the family tries to talk to her. I hated saying “she’s shy” because it sounded like there was something wrong with her. I soon changed to “she won’t talk to strangers, don’t take it personally.” That has been wonderful because the people don’t persist in trying to get her to talk and she generally gets praised for having the good sense not to talk to strangers 🙂
Brilliant advocacy technique there, JMH! And now she’s admired for her good sense. Perfect!
@Dee: introverts are very particular about their surroundings, since they are more affected by them. I’d ask your son If he’d like to chose a different room (natural lighting in large amounts is a NEED, not being picky) or if he’d like to decorate his differently. Do not discourage or hide more “adult” looks from him. Serenity is important in setting a visual tone and something difficult to find in “child”-themed gear. I am also an introvert who likes to hang out in Partially open home spaces because I’m feeling social…ish. I just feel good knowing people I love are *around*. I don’t need to engage them. (Ever hear of ruining a moment by talking? That’s what it means.) They clinginess is probably a result of being or feeling exposed to other people or not adequately being recharged.
@Geekmom I’d add that the only reason I stopped telling my parent about my day as a child is because he wasn’t listening. Communication is a HUGE energy drain on introverts. Don’t make them repeat themselves just because you were going through the motions and not actually listening. They WILL stop talking to you.
Kyra, thank you so much for making those brilliant points! I lovelovelove the respect you show for the introverted kid and their surroundings. Your point about companionable silences is spot on, as well.
And yes, the amount of energy required by introverts to share should not be underestimated! Truly listen, or risk being shut out forever!
I have to admit that I’m a bit disappointed to have my comment deleted. There was no flame, no harsh critisims, support for most of the premises and conclusions, but still a question raised.
I truly believe that it’s questioning and debate that brings us forward, that will allow us to increase understanding, and sometimes abandon views that in discussion prove to be flawed. And I expected GeekMom to be a forum where questioning and debate was allowed and encouraged.
Hege, I was surprised to read that your comment was deleted! I did not delete it, as I thought you made some good points. I’m wondering if it was deleted in error when the editors were clearing out the spam comments or something. I’m off to go research this, because like you, I thought your points were good ones. So sorry this happened!
Let me see if I can find out what happened…
Okay, I think I understand the confusion–do you mean this comment you posted here, on the second post about introversion? http://www.wired.com/geekmom/2011/04/tips-for-introverted-parents-raising-extraverted-kids/
The one about introverted parents raising extroverted kids?Because that’s the only one that ever showed up on my end.
This is a great article for parents. My second child seems to fall into this category. I became concerned that he might be autistic, because of this introverted personality traits. He is now 3, and I now understand nothing is “wrong” with him, he just needs own personal space and down time. I thought it was quite odd that at the age of 2 he preffered Harry Portter, to cartoons. It really channels his long attention span. Now, instead of forcing him to talk, and be apart of a group, I encourge is alone time activites, like painting, building with legos…etc. Thanks again.
Schools need to begin implimenting a shared enviroment for both introverted children and extroverts. At the moment, only the one kind are rewarded. The introverted children are seen as different and odd, and yet they thrive in a quiet calm enviroment. It’s time to have a part of the report card decated to how well they work autonomously rather than how they work with peers.
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