When my son started kindergarten, I expected that he'd happily participate in the activities, just as he'd done in preschool. When I came to pick him up, however, the other kids were playing together in the center of the rug while Jamie sat contentedly on the edge, watching. After school, most kids ran around the playground, but he stayed on my lap. I tried to talk him into joining the others, but he said simply, "I don't want to, Mommy."
What had happened to my chatty, playful little boy? He'd shown me his true nature, that's what. My son, I discovered, is an introvert -- even though, like most introverts, he acts extroverted at home, with his close friends, and in situations that feel familiar to him.
Everyone is born with a predisposition toward a personality type. Extroverts are energized by interacting with others and the world around them, while introverts are drained by too much interaction, especially with a big group, and prefer to be with people they know well. Although all kids display traits of both types, they innately prefer one style over the other.
At 5 or 6, when your child is thrust into the new surroundings of kindergarten, his personality type will become more apparent than before, says parent educator Barbara Barron-Tieger, coauthor of Nurture by Nature: Understand Your Child's Personality Type -- and Become a Better Parent (Little Brown, 1997). It may even affect his performance in school. "Extroverts learn best when they're talking and interacting," Barron-Tieger says. "But they tend to get in trouble more than introverts do. They're the kids who are often poking their neighbors, whispering, or calling out the answer." Introverts learn by watching and reflecting. They get positive reinforcement from teachers for sitting quietly and not interrupting but may be overlooked in class.
Recognizing your child's type will not only help you understand her behavior but also make you less likely to worry. For instance, if your child holds back at first, the way my son did, you'll know that it's simply her nature to observe initially and that she'll join in when she's ready. Because you can't change your child's personality, the best way to help her develop lasting self-esteem is to accept who she is. Here are some tips to help your child thrive.
Copyright© 2004. Reprinted with permission from the February 2001 issue of Parents magazine.
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