Raising an Introverted Child in an Extroverted World

Raising an Introverted Child in an Extroverted World

We live in a society that is geared towards extroversion. Think about it: a public school system that overtly pushes class participation, a work culture that encourages networking for current and future jobs (not to mention open-plan work spaces) and a society that promotes norms like small talk. America values the bold and gregarious and the louder people are, the more confident they appear and the more attention they receive.

Estimates suggest that introverts make up at least 50% of the population, but despite this, parents and a large section of society think being introverted is an oddity. We tend to think that children should be sociable and outgoing and if they turn out quieter than their friends, we worry that something is wrong. We want our children to have large groups of friends, to be included in activities with other children because we think that’s “normal” and that’s what a successful child looks like. We don’t want our kid to be the weird loner who likes hanging out by himself because that reflects badly on our parenting skills.

So if our children, by some quirk of fate, happen to be introverts, we rush around in a panic trying to jump-start their social lives. We arrange playdates if they’re toddlers, insist on inviting their friends and classmates over if they are teens and push them to join numerous clubs and groups in a bid to make them act more like extroverts. According to Susan Cain, famed author of Quiet: The Power Of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, this only leads to a “colossal waste of talent, energy and happiness.”

Introverts Are Born That Way

Instead of seeing introverts as failed extroverts, we should begin appreciating their unique strengths and talents. You probably know that your introverted child prefers spending time alone in quiet surroundings unlike extroverts who prefer being where the action is- but do you know why?

A study done on both introverts and extroverts showed that the latter were less receptive to dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s pleasure and reward centers. So the more extroverts socialize and interact with others and the world, the more they stimulate that brain reward center and the happier and more energetic they feel. Introverts, on the other hand, are more receptive to dopamine and require less stimulation. This is why they re-energize by being alone.

Another clue to the introvert-extrovert puzzle lies in the workings of the nervous system. While extroverts favor the sympathetic side of their nervous systems – which explains why they are always amped up and raring to go- introverts favor the parasympathetic side. This side deals more with conserving energy and relaxing muscles, resulting in a calmer, quieter and more reserved individual.

As you can see, introversion owes a lot to biology. There’s nothing wrong with your child, they’re just wired differently.

Bringing Out The Best In Your Introverted Child

Since introverts are such a widely misunderstood bunch, knowing how to raise one can be quite challenging. This is especially true of teens who are just starting to develop their identity and sense of self-worth. The most important thing in bringing up introverts is to learn to work with, not against, their strengths.

Here are some pointers:

  1. Accept and embrace.

    The first hurdle to get over is yourself. You need to accept that your child is an introvert and as such, will not be the conventional social butterfly. Although they can and will form strong friendships, they will take their time about it and will prefer solitude to hanging out with crowds. Pushing your child to have a more active social life amounts to trying to change a fundamental part of who they are. It sends a message that they aren’t good enough and this can not only wreck their self-esteem but also your relationship with them. So accept them as they are.

  2. Encourage them to seek out outlets for self-expression.

    Introverts have a fundamental need to express themselves so encourage your teen to find healthy outlets. This could be through art, creative writing, journaling, yoga or whatever tickles their fancy. Even social media, which has been vilified for the harmful impact it can have on teens, can come in handy. Social media platforms can give your teen the freedom to be thoughtful and expressive, without having to turn into an extrovert.

  3. Respect their need for privacy.

    Extroverted parents often assume the whole family needs to always do things together but this only ends up being overwhelming for an introverted child. A better approach is to plan some one-on-one activities you and your child can do together. Additionally, allow your teen to have some privacy and tranquility since introverts recharge through solitude and need quiet time to process what they observe. As one writer in The Atlantic put it, “For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.”

  4. Work with their strengths.

    While teens are naturally reticent, introverts may appear even more so. Pushing them to join groups or clubs they have no interest in may backfire. Instead, try chatting with them to learn where their interests lie and work with that. Encouraging them to do something in line with their interests will produce more favorable results. For instance, they might excel at individual sports like swimming instead of team sports like basketball.

  5. Give gentle nudges, not hard thrusts.

    Introverted teens might need lots of solitude to recharge but spending all their free time alone can easily lead to depression, loneliness and low self-esteem. Instead of trying to suddenly jolt your child by sneakily enrolling them in a club without their knowledge, gently nudge them to seek out those they share interests with. It could be that they’re not very confident and feel they don’t have the right social skills to participate in group activities. Boost their skills by teaching them simple conversation starters and advise them on how to interact with people.

  6. Teach them to understand and celebrate their uniqueness.

    Because extroverts tend to dominate social situations, introverts often feel left out of things. Teach your child to appreciate their unique individuality and talents. Let them know that their ability to listen, focus, observe and communicate with others on an intimate level is invaluable and nothing to be ashamed of. You can even give examples of famous introverted celebrities and personalities that your child can look up to.

Raising an introverted child in an extroverted world is challenging, no doubt about that. However, the key to success lies in seeing introversion as a strength to be harnessed, rather than an affliction to be cured.


About the Author: Cindy Price

Cindy Price is a Northern Utah wife, mom, and writer. She has 15 years experience writing educational content in the many areas of parenting, with an emphasis on teen-related issues, from which she applies and expounds on her personal experience raising three teenagers. You can find Cindy on Twitter.

13 Comments

Pinaki P

Thank you for this excellent article. For articulating for those who refrain from expressing themselves.
Your suggestions are excellent , kind and effective.

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Margaret G

I am a 73 year old Introvert.My idea of a good time as a child was reading in the large broom press in my home. I was sent to ballet,acting classes,all to improve my small self.I was quite good ‘passing’ as an extravert,it was exhausting. I held my own at travelling arou nd the city of Dublin,watching learning all that was available. I was a biddable child,but still ended up in frustration,worry with a child psychiatrist,who pronounced me OK. I eventually realised myself at about 35 years that I was never going to like large crowds,happy with one person. I am no genius but I do feel that a lot of children who are on the autistic scale are in fact introverts,to me their avoidance of the social is part of their world.
Naturally at my advanced age I no longer give a hoot.

But I do care deeply for parents who have such a little girl,be kind to yourselves,know that they are quite OK.

Reply
Love

Thanks for the article Cindy. I have issues on my 5yr old daughter. she is an introvert. I don’t want her to end up like me. I have stage fright, I’m shy, not the talking type. all because of my faulty childhood.

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Jamyang C

I have 10 + years old son. He is very much introverted. Dont at all go out side. Stays at home only. Only one friend. Dont know how to deal with people. Dont eat much and he is very weak mentally n physically. Very much worried for him. Your kind tips to make my some overcome all these things will be highly appreciated. From Bhutan.

Reply
Jo Lynn

Thank you so much for this article. I have a 21 year old that has had a hard time since highschool. I wish I would have read this article sooner. Maybe I could have minimized both his and my frustration.

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Mary

Thank you for a great article Cindy!! I myself have an introverted 13 year old and am learning so much about what a unique wonderful human being he is. I wouldn’t change it for anything.

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Sarah

Thank you. I have an introverted 13 year old and I keep thinking I have to push him to join clubs and be more social. This was very helpful to me.

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Sandy D

Mine is only 8 and I am an extreme extrovert and it kills me to see that she doesn’t wanna do anything except stay at home in her room on her iPad. I have tried to enroll her in Girl Scouts, gymnastics, church clubs, but all she wants to do is stay home I would love to hear more about introverts. Should I let her be this way or is there something else I can do for her?

Reply
Intuition Wellness Center

Thanks, Cindy, for an excellent article. We spend an awful lot of time trying to mold our children to fit societal demands. This was a great reminder that often (or maybe always) we need to get out of the way and, instead of trying to fix something that’s not broken, trust that those little developing beings are just who they ought to be.

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Leen

Thank you so, so much! This has really helped me understand my three teens, specifically my youngest. Because I’m a little more extroverted than them (although still an introvert), I was trying to push them a bit too much, instead of working with their natural personality. (And I was thinking there was something wrong with my parenting because it wasn’t working!)

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Raquel

I absolutely agree with you , Cindy ! Thank you so mich for this great article !!! 🙂

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Barbara

Thank you for this article. I was/am an introvert who was raised by two extraverted parents. My mother often said if I did not look so much like them, she thought I’d been switched at birth because temperamentally I was so different from them. I experienced much of what you describe – being pushed to interact. The irony is I now work in a Fortune 500 company that is a highly extraverted environment, even moreso than other companies I’ve worked for. It’s challenging because so much emphasis is placed on teamwork and group activities.I grew up in the 60’s so I can’t imagine what introverted kids have to cope with today when everything is gear to non-stop curricular activities whether it is soccer/sports, band, dance classes, cheerleading, drill team, and a host of activities. The complaint I hear is how overscheduled children are and the burden on the introverted child has to be enormous. You’ve provided some valuable advice to parents.

Reply

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We teach our kids to respect adults and other children, and they should – respect is an important part of growing up to be a pretty great human. There’s something else though that’s even more important – teaching them to respect themselves first. 

We can’t stop difficult people coming into their lives. They might be teachers, coaches, peers, and eventually, colleagues, or perhaps people connected to the people who love them. What we can do though is give our kids independence of mind and permission to recognise that person and their behaviour as unacceptable to them. We can teach our kids that being kind and respectful doesn’t necessarily mean accepting someone’s behaviour, beliefs or influence. 

The kindness and respect we teach our children to show to others should never be used against them by those broken others who might do harm. We have to recognise as adults that the words and attitudes directed to our children can be just as damaging as anything physical. 

If the behaviour is from an adult, it’s up to us to guard our child’s safe space in the world even harder. That might be by withdrawing support for the adult, using our own voice with the adult to elevate our child’s, asking our child what they need and how we can help, helping them find their voice, withdrawing them from the environment. 

Of course there will be times our children do or say things that aren’t okay, but this never makes it okay for any adult in your child’s life to treat them in a way that leads them to feeling ‘less than’.

Sometimes the difficult person will be a peer. There is no ‘one certain way’ to deal with this. Sometimes it will involve mediation, role playing responses, clarifying the other child’s behaviour, asking for support from other adults in the environment, or letting go of the friendship.

Learning that it’s okay to let go of relationships is such an important part of full living. Too often we hold on to people who don’t deserve us. Not everyone who comes into our lives is meant to stay and if we can help our children start to think about this when they’re young, they’ll be so much more empowered and deliberate in their relationships when they’re older.♥️
When we are angry, there will always be another emotion underneath it. It is this way for all of us. 

Anger itself is a valid emotion so it’s important not to dismiss it. Emotion is e-motion - energy in motion. It has to find a way out, which is why telling an angry child to calm down or to keep their bodies still will only make things worse for them. They might comply, but their bodies will still be in a state of distress. 

Often, beneath an angry child is an anxious one needing our help. It’s the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. As with all emotions, anger has a job to do - to help us to safety through movement, or to recruit support, or to give us the physical resources to meet a need or to change something that needs changing. It doesn’t mean it does the job well, because an angry brain means the feeling brain has the baton, while the thinking brain sits out for a while. What it means is that there is a valid need there and this young person is doing their very best to meet it, given their available resources in the moment or their developmental stage. 

Children need the same thing we all need when we’re feeling fierce - to be seen,  heard, and supported; to find a way to get the energy out, either with words or movement. Not to be shut down or ‘fixed’. 

Our job isn’t to stop their anger, but to help them find ways to feel it and express it in ways that don’t do damage. This will take lots of experience, and lots of time - and that’s okay.♥️
The SCCR Online Conference 2021 is a wonderful initiative by @sccrcentre (Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution) which will explore ’The Power of Reconnection’. I’ve been working with SCCR for many years. They do incredible work to build relationships between young people and the important adults around them, and I’m excited to be working with them again as part of this conference.

More than ever, relationships matter. They heal, provide a buffer against stress, and make the world feel a little softer and safer for our young people. Building meaningful connections can take time, and even the strongest relationships can feel the effects of disconnection from time to time. As part of this free webinar, I’ll be talking about the power of attachment relationships, and ways to build relationships with the children and teens in your life that protect, strengthen, and heal. 

The workshop will be on Monday 11 October at 7pm Brisbane, Australia time (10am Scotland time). The link to register is in my story.
There are many things that can send a nervous system into distress. These can include physiological (tired, hungry, unwell), sensory overload/ underload, real or perceived threat (anxiety), stressed resources (having to share, pay attention, learn new things, putting a lid on what they really think or want - the things that can send any of us to the end of ourselves).

Most of the time it’s developmental - the grown up brain is being built and still has a way to go. Like all beautiful, strong, important things, brains take time to build. The part of the brain that has a heavy hand in regulation launches into its big developmental window when kids are about 6 years old. It won’t be fully done developing until mid-late 20s. This is a great thing - it means we have a wide window of influence, and there is no hurry.

Like any building work, on the way to completion things will get messy sometimes - and that’s okay. It’s not a reflection of your young one and it’s not a reflection of your parenting. It’s a reflection of a brain in the midst of a build. It’s wondrous and fascinating and frustrating and maddening - it’s all the things.

The messy times are part of their development, not glitches in it. They are how it’s meant to be. They are important opportunities for us to influence their growth. It’s just how it happens. We have to be careful not to judge our children or ourselves because of these messy times, or let the judgement of others fill the space where love, curiosity, and gentle guidance should be. For sure, some days this will be easy, and some days it will feel harder - like splitting an atom with an axe kind of hard.

Their growth will always be best nurtured in the calm, loving space beside us. It won’t happen through punishment, ever. Consequences have a place if they make sense and are delivered in a way that doesn’t shame or separate them from us, either physically or emotionally. The best ‘consequence’ is the conversation with you in a space that is held by your warm loving strong presence, in a way that makes it safe for both of you to be curious, explore options, and understand what happened.♥️
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#mindfulparenting #positiveparenting #parenting
When children are struggling to physically control their bodies, we support them in ways that strengthen. If they’re struggling to write, for example, we don’t punish or shame them. We guide them and show them by doing ‘with’. We also lift them up, ‘I know you can do this. Keep going. You’re getting better and better.’ We also don’t wait for perfection. ‘You wrote a number 4! Nice work you!’ We sit with and do with, over and over. We also give them a break when they get frustrated or upset.

It’s the same for behaviour. Big behaviour comes from big feelings or attempts to meet valid needs. (And all needs are valid.) It is this way for all of us. When we’re upset or angry, the last thing we need is for someone to tell us we can’t be, or to lecture or shame us. Kids are the same.

With kids and teens though, there can be a sense that we need to ‘do’ something in response to big behaviour, so we lay down punishments or consequences with a view to teaching a lesson.

But - unless the consequences make sense (punishments never do), they risk teaching lessons we don’t want them to learn:
- that the environment is fragile and won’t tolerate mistakes. 
- that secrecy and lies are a safer option than coming to us. 
- shut down. They put a lid on expressing big feelings. The feelings will still be there, but they aren’t getting the vital guidance from us on how to calm them (through co-regulation). The risk is that they will eventually call on unhealthy ways to calm the fierce stress neurobiology that comes with big feelings.

Consequences have to make sense. Maybe it’s to repair or reconnect. Discipline has to teach. It’s not about what we do to them but about what we nurture within them. Is that trust and the capacity to learn and grow? Or is it fear or shame.

Often the only response that’s needed is a loving conversation with us. ‘What happened?’ ‘What were you hoping would happen?’ ‘What did you need that you didn’t get?’ What can you do differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right?’ Because if discipline is about learning, the most powerful consequence is the strong, loving conversation with us that lights their way and speaks softly to the safety of us.♥️

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