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The Introverted Child – Handle with Care

When I was picking up my daughter from a Brownie meeting one afternoon, the leader took me aside. Obviously concerned, she informed me that my daughter was not participating in the troop’s rowdy post-meeting play periods. Instead, she stood on the sidelines and watched. I shrugged. “Yes, she’s a watcher,” I said. “It’s no big deal.” My comment was met with a frown. I murmured an excuse and went to find my offspring, anxious to make my exit before I blurted out the “i” word: Introvert.

Knowing that the term conjures up the image of a melancholy loner – or worse – I hesitated to describe my daughter as an introvert. I was still learning about introversion back then and often felt uncomfortable discussing it. Dr. Honore Hughes, clinical child psychologist and psychology professor, says the fact that introverts are in the minority (25 per cent of kids are estimated to be introverted) can make them suspect.

“Our culture is so extroverted, almost to the extreme,” she says, “and when you deviate too much from what’s culturally desirable, then it’s tough.” Whether a parent is an introvert or extrovert, raising an introverted child can be tricky. Experts recognize that an introverted child has needs that diverge from those of the extroverted majority and can benefit from special parenting skills.

Introvert/extrovert: coined by Carl Jung Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D., writes about the challenges of raising introverted children in The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child: Helping Your Child Thrive in an Extroverted World. Laney points out that the words “introvert” and “extravert” (now often spelled with an “o”) were coined a century ago by noted psychoanalyst Carl Jung and have come to describe temperaments based on genetic makeup. In simple terms, the extrovert has an outward orientation and is energized by social encounters; the introvert looks inward and draws energy from within themself.

Some special gifts of introverts

As might be expected, the introverted temperament doesn’t shout out its positive attributes to the world. These include a love of learning, creative thinking, empathy, loyalty, appreciation of the little things in life and loyalty to friends. Introverts often excel in artistic endeavors.

How can parents nurture their introverted children? Here are some of Laney’s suggestions:

• Give them your time; chat with them for 15 minutes each day. Introverts favor one-on-one conversation and are good at it.

• Offer a secure base and let them know you’re there to help.

• Demonstrate that you enjoy them for who they are; show confidence in their potential.

• Provide predictable routines and stability.

• Create private space for them.

• Talk to them about temperament, and encourage everyone in the family to learn from each other’s strengths.

Hughes suggests that parents approach the subject of temperament in positive terms. For example, they can describe their child as ‘thoughtful’ or ‘observant’. “Instead of having a negative label for themselves, children can say, ‘Well, I’m more thoughtful. I just wait and observe a little bit longer, and then I join in.’”

Role-playing can help

Hughes adds that role-playing can help an introverted child ease into novel situations; for example, a new school. Even though introducing a child to their teacher and showing your child their classroom ahead of time are both beneficial, Hughes says practicing conversation starters with a child can offer an extra measure of first-day confidence.

“Give children examples of things they can say: ‘What’s your name? Where did you go to school last year?’ You give the child practice being a little more extroverted in a safe place, a safe situation.”

When an introverted child is older, says Hughes, a parent can encourage them to plan ahead for new situations, such as university. “Clearly, they have more coping strategies because they’re older and more mature, but still, that basic temperament of being inhibited will be there,” she says. Hughes suggests practicing for novel situations, such as what the teen will do when they walk into a university cafeteria alone. Most kids grow out of extreme introversion, even though the propensity to be introverted will always be there. “It’s somewhat genetic, it’s somewhat stable,” says Hughes, “but really, the interpersonal interactions that children have with people in their environment help to modify the tendency.”

Introverts and careers

Despite the positive aspects of introversion, many parents worry how their introverted kids will fare as adults, especially when it comes to careers. Laney says that introverts’ ability to focus well and to delve deeply into a subject often help them to become experts in their chosen fields. “Fields such as science, computers, medicine, engineering, architecture, psychology and higher education are dominated by introverts, due to their unusual ability to deeply concentrate on complex information,” she says.

Parents of introverts should not discount the importance they have in their kids’ lives. “They need you,” says Laney. “Introverted kids must have meaningful relationships in order to develop their gifts. A good relationship with you is the key to uncovering their hidden strengths.”

How do you tell if your child leans toward introversion?

Laney says they may show the following behaviors:

• Is quiet in many situations, but talkative in other, more comfortable ones.

• Feels tired after socializing and needs downtime.

• Tends to have one or two good friends and sees others as acquaintances.

• Talks softly and occasionally needs to hunt for words.

• Observes rather than joins in o Becomes silent when overwhelmed, tired or uncomfortable.

You may also notice that your school-age introverted child won’t participate in class unless they know the subject well and they like to work and play by themselves. An introverted teen may start dating or driving later than classmates.

Barb is a freelance writer and mother of two who specializes in parenting issues and travel.



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