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You might be an introvert if you see a post about “10 ways to have a fun family reunion” and your first thought is, “#1: cancel it.”

Command-performance family events, weddings, and parties rank right up there on the list of “Things That Make Introverts Want to Hide Under the Bed.”

And telling an introvert, “It will be fun! You’ll have a good time when you get there!” probably will not help. In fact, if you are the mom of an introvert–especially if you are the extroverted mom of an introvert–you might want to nix “you’ll have fun once you get there” from your list of go-to phrases.

On the other hand, here are four ways to verbally encourage, support and build up a child whose life motto is something along the lines of “please do me the honor of not requesting my company”:

1. “I know this is hard for you.” Which is not at all the same as “I understand why this is hard for you.” If you are an extrovert, you may not have the slightest idea why having a tooth pulled without anesthesia sounds less painful than going to that family reunion. (“Look how you’ve grown!” and “what are you doing with your life that’s exciting and impressive?” and all that.) But you do not have to empathize to sympathize. You only have to accept that introverted is how your child is, which makes certain necessary life events uncomfortable. Knowing that you know this–by hearing this tender, understanding phrase–can be incredibly comforting to your “I’m fine by myself, thanks” child.

2. “You only have to stay a little while.” Thirty minutes, maybe. Or an hour. Or whatever relatively short span of time is reasonable enough so as not to be rude and to demonstrate the value of relationship over comfort. Introverts can usually psych themselves up for people-time if they know it has a definite end and is not going to stretch on ad infinitum

Telling your introverted child “you only have to stay this long” gives them a grip on the chunk of time they’ll need to summon up a little extroversion from some recessive gene before they can recharge their solitude-fed batteries. 

3. “Thank you for doing this.” When you are teaching your children to live beyond themselves and to sometimes prioritize the feelings of others over their own, they will have to do what they don’t necessarily want to do at some point. Tell your child this might be one of those times. Explain why they need to do this…who they will honor or bless or what milestone or accomplishment they will help recognize. Then thank them for doing it. This communicates to them that you understand they are doing something hard and that it matters and counts and that you appreciate it. 

4. “I think you’re wonderful and I love you.” Of course, this is what we all need: to know, via words and actions and expressions, that we are cherished and appreciated and treasured…not merely tolerated or accepted with resignation. Your introvert longs to know that you will support and cheer them on while they figure out how to walk the line between doing what they want and doing what will bless and encourage others. They have to be taught that life is not all about them, of course, but at the same time, they crave reassurance that you are for them and on their side.

Reassure your son or daughter that they do not have to “convert” to extroversion in order to be valuable and valued. Teach them that introversion is not a weakness; it is part of their uniqueness–and that you are crazy about them just the way they are. 

Or, as only the brilliant Dr. Seuss could put it, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

Elizabeth Spencer

Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.

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