For the last eleven years I have been trying to explain introverts to my mother in law, who is about as extroverted as a person can be. While I am no hermit, I fall pretty far to the left on the introvert/extrovert continuum. Not gonna lie, the conversation never goes well.
But before we get into my troubles explaining introversion to an extrovert, lets clear up a few myths about introverts.
- Introverts are not shy.
- Introverts do like to be around other people.
- Introverts are not unhappy, even though it may seem that way (especially to extroverts).
- You are not either an extrovert or an introvert exclusively, you can have traits of both.
What I have found in conversations with my mother in law and with other extroverts (like my Grandma Doris… huge extrovert, in fact I’ll bet 50% of Nebraska residents who read this know her or have at least talked to her once), I find that they have a much harder time empathizing with our introverted qualities than we do with their extroverted ones. Many of us WANT to have some of their qualities. We want to be more comfortable with large groups of people or with people we don’t know with less effort (because we can do those things, although it is often har). We want to make friends easily. But extroverts look at us and think “I can do this, why can’t they?” I implore all extroverts to think of the most hated, uncomfortable activity you can. That is how introverts feel when, say, calling someone they aren’t super close to or joining a new group.
This is even more important to be aware of when dealing with a child. Most introverted adults have developed coping mechanisms to allow them to do the things they need to do, like making phone calls, visiting a new place, or making friends. Children haven’t had the time to develop these yet. So when dealing with a mixed group of children or with an introverted child, here are some tips.
- They will not just blurt out an answer when you ask them a question, at least not until they are super duper comfortable with you. After you ask them a question, count to three (without prompting, prodding, or asking again) before assuming they don’t know the answer.
- They will require alone time more often than other children, and if they don’t get it they will often act out because they become easily tired and overwhelmed. Allow them time during the day to do individual activities like puzzles or coloring.
- Do not pressure them to play with others or to “make friends.” It is generally thought that all children can make friends with each other at the drop of a hat, but this is less true with introverted children. After we moved to Minnesota Isabel, then 4, spent three months at her new preschool only playing puzzles. She participated in all the activities her teachers presented to her, but during free play she only did puzzles. As an introverted parent, I understood and allowed her this time. By Christmas she had made several friends.
The most important thing to remember when dealing with any child, of course, is that they are individuals. What works for one may or may not work for another. Embrace the differences in children as well as the commonalities and all involved will thrive.
An introverted child may not like their picture taken. Photo taken by Jenilee Burns, used by permission of Brandis Roush.