PARENTING INTROVERTED CHILDREN
We live in a society that promotes and pushes getting yourself ‘out there’ through avenues like; the school environment, sports, family life, work cultures, networking groups etc., and yet through various studies conducted over the years, it is suggested that introverts make up at least 50% of the population and yet introverted character traits are still not really accepted in society and can be viewed as abnormal. In addition, many children can be mistaken for having depression or being anxious and this is just not the case. We have been taught that to be successful parents and raise happy children, they should be sociable, outgoing, have large groups of friends and like the same activities as other children do. So, if we find ourselves parenting introverted children, we might do things like; quickly jumping in and try to ‘help’ their social lives, talking for them, make excuses for their quietness, expressing what they are thinking on their behalf, arrange group play dates, push them into clubs etc. all with the good intention to try and ‘get them out’ of this introversion. A better tact would be to start appreciating their individual talents, strengths and noteworthy qualities and expressing to them how incredibly valued they are as individuals.
Sally Eberhardt, author of ‘Pain Free Networking for Introverts’, says "We know so much more about introverts and extroverts now and I advise parents to discuss the traits of each with their kids and help them recognize that they are unique yet 'normal'. It was such a relief to discover there was nothing wrong with me - that I'm an introvert and that's why I thought and felt differently to some other kids. I was friendly yet hated being in the spotlight - giving a 5 min talk in front of the class was agonising", said Sally.
The first hurdle you may need to get over is your way of thinking and what you want for your child, especially if you are an extrovert. Accepting that your child likes to spend time alone or one on one with others instead of large groups is a good place to start. If they are constantly pushed into being someone else, the message sent to them is that who they are isn’t acceptable and not good enough to fit into society and this may also damage any personal relationship you have with them. Sally recommends that, “The main thing to remember is that introverts recharge their energy alone and find social situations exhausting whereas extroverts need the stimulation to energise. Give your introvert child time and space so they can cope with social interaction and life will be easier for everyone.”
Therefore, in a family environment to constantly do everything together can be very overwhelming for an introverted child. To also include one on one activities or alone time is a much better option, as they recharge through solitude and quiet time. As Sally also says, "Parents have access to information that will help them understand their child better, so they can uncover their introvert superpowers such as listening, building deep relationships and curiosity." That is why also helping your child cultivate their passions, unique interests and individual talents is worthwhile rather than shoving them into team sports or the like, where they are unlikely to meet people who share the same hobbies.
As some introverts ‘live internally’ sometimes it is important that we make sure they are being heard. Especially in a large family where the other children are more outspoken. Introverts tend to internalise dialogue and any problems. Therefore, it might take some gentle drawing out from a parent or carer, to get to the bottom of a situation or how they are feeling with thoughtful questions combined with active listening, as opposed to interrogation type questioning. I remember watching a parent constantly speaking on behalf of her child, recounting events, sharing how the child felt, what she said etc. until one day when the child was older, she spoke up and started saying things like; “That’s not true!” and “No I’m not!” It was such a relief to see this introverted child standing up for herself.
It is so important to celebrate who your child is. As adults we don’t like being compared to others and don’t like it when people try to change us to suit their needs or to fit into the wider society and in turn, neither do children. Any attempt at altering someone’s inherit personality simply won’t work and will only cause harmful effects such as; them questioning are they normal, pretending to be someone they’re not, not being true to themselves etc.
Awareness and support is paramount in parenting introverted children. It needs to be explained and taught to children that everyone is different, has different talents, interests, mindsets and ways of doing things and to accept and embrace themselves how they are. We don’t want to raise a bunch of robots, we need to encourage individuality, creativity and free expression to add to the richness of society.
Contributer: Sally Eberhardt author of ‘Pain Free Networking For Introverts’