Wednesday, October 9th, 2013
Do you have an introverted kid? If so, absolutely do not miss the Q&A below with Christine Fonsaca, author of the new book, Quiet Kids: Help Your Introverted Child Succeed in an Extroverted World. She is full of tips and tricks for getting your child to come out of her shell–or for letting her stay safely and happily tucked right inside.
KK: How do you know if your child is introverted?
CF: Ask most parents for a definition of introversion and you typically get words like “shy” or “withdrawn.” Even as introversion is becoming more recognized as a temperament and not a negative behavioral trait, most parents still don’t know the underlying neurological differences in introversion and extroversion. In fact, introversion still tends to be linked with everything from social anxiety disorders to attention problems or autism, a fact that has little basis in truth.
So what is introversion really? One way to answer this is to know what it is not. Introversion is not narcissism or self-centeredness. It is not being shy or aloof. It has to do with how an individual uses energy. Extroverted people typically thrive on the frenetic energy created in socially charged situations, relying on the energy hit as a path toward renewal. Introverts, on the other hand, find such energy draining. Unlike their extroverted counterparts, they require solitude in order to renew, thriving when given ample opportunities to lose themselves in their own thoughts. The same is true for introverted children.
A few typical early signs that your child may be introverted include:
- Hesitation in new situations
- Appears to be “lost” inside of him or herself
- Gets grouchy when around people for too long
- Appears “shy”
- Becomes agitated with a lot of sensory input (lights, movement, noise, etc)
- Most comfortable alone or with 1-2 friends
- Needs “downtime” after school or after highly social activities
KK: What are some tips for parents of young introverted children?
Build downtime into the introvert’s day. Don’t wait until he or she melts down to provide periods of respite. Make it a normal part of every day.
Stop stressing over friendship. The number one thing parents ask me about is friendships. Somehow most of us got it into our head’s that children need many friends. This isn’t always true. One or two close friendships can provide the introverted child with the connections he or she needs in order to cultivate their emotional development.
Be open to differences in temperament. If you happen to be an extroverted parent, your introverted child will seem like a complete enigma. You may be compelled to “fix” the introversion, viewing his or her need for seclusion as an indicator of a larger problem. Resist the urge to characterize the behavior as pathological. Instead, watch your child closely. Does he or she appear happy? Does he or she have one or two friends? Does she appear comfortable at home? If the answer is yes to most of these, there is probably nothing more than temperament at play.
KK: What should parents do to prepare their introverted child for kindergarten?
CF: Transition to school can be challenging for many children, especially introverts. Building routines around school, visiting the campus ahead of time, and making certain your child is well rested are all ways to facilitate the transition. After kindergarten has started, parents should watch for performance difficulties. Sometimes these difficulties relate to temperament as opposed to content mastery. It is important for parents and teachers to work together should a problem arise in school.
KK: What if one of my children is extroverted and the other(s) are introverts? What are some tips for smoothing out the battles with a mixed-temperament household?
CF: Ah yes, the mixed temperament household. Given that introversion accounts for 25 to 30 percent of the population according to most researchers, a mixed temperament household is fairly common. Here are a couple of tips to smooth out some of the rough waters mixed temperament households may experience:
- When possible, allow the introvert to have her own room or her own space. This will give her a specific place where she can decompress after a socially-charged school day.
- Teach both the extroverts and introverts about temperament. Help them understand each other’s needs
- Be certain to provide both routines and times of calm for the introvert, as well as spontaneity and activity for the extrovert. Both can learn skills from each other, while having their own needs met
- Watch out for unfair expectations; the introvert is likely not going to have larger numbers of friends or go out to social venues often, and the extrovert is probably not going to hang out in their room, alone, quietly reading for long periods of time. It’s important to know your child and understand the influence of their natural temperament
KK: It seems like my daughter never has friends. Is this true of most introverts?
CF: One of the common myths about introverts is that they do not have friends. In fact, they often develop close personal friendships with one or two people at a time. If it seems like your child does not have friends, I would listen closely to her recounts of the day. Does she mention anyone at school that she talks to? Does she seem happy socially? If she does, she is likely developing friendships the way most introverts do. There isn’t a social problem unless she has no friends at all and is demonstrating difficulties with peers.