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.