These comments can make introverted kids believe that they always need to be surrounded by others in order to be “normal” and valuable.
Children are like sponges, soaking up everything around them — especially introverted children. They’re known to be introspective and observant, and they are content to spend time alone (they have plenty to entertain themselves with, whether it’s a video game, book, or creative hobby).
That’s why adults must be careful — without even realizing it, adults can say or do things that have a negative impact on introverted children, and even shape the adults they have yet to become.
Based on personal experience, when I was an introverted child myself, and things that I’ve observed as an introverted adult, here are five phrases that can negatively impact an introverted child.
5 Things Adults Say That Negatively Impact an Introverted Child
1. Asking a child what’s “wrong” when they are alone.
In one of my previous jobs, I supervised a group of kids. I still remember the day when one of my colleagues (an extrovert) went to check on one boy because he was playing alone. He looked totally fine to me, happily playing by himself.
“What’s wrong?” she asked him. “Is everything all right?”
The little boy, who was concentrating deeply on his game, took a bit of time to respond to her, looked around, then with a soft voice — one of those characteristics of an introverted temperament — replied “yes,” visibly surprised by her question.
When she came back, I asked her why she thought there was something wrong. She told me that, for her, seeing someone playing alone was a sign that things were not right, that something or someone upset him, or that other kids had deliberately rejected him.
The fact that he could be alone — because he wanted to be alone, or because he needed some time to himself — never crossed her mind. She couldn’t understand why he would choose to be alone when there were so many other children he could play with.
This experience made me realize the stigma around solitude and how children can be negatively impacted by it. Even when it comes from good intentions, asking an introverted child, “What’s wrong?” implies that being alone is shameful or odd. This can condition quiet kids to believe that they always need to be surrounded by others to prove they’re “normal” and valuable.
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2. Tell them they are blushing (or something else that will make them self-conscious).
This one hits home for me, and I become a fervent activist every time I witness it: Please stop telling kids when they are blushing. I think introverted children are more susceptible to blushing, due to their reserved and empathetic temperaments. It happened to me many times when I was younger, and I can still remember it.
First of all, pointing it out is not helping, as the last thing a blushing person (especially an introverted child!) wants is to have all eyes on them and become the center of attention.
Let’s admit, it’s a poor attempt to dedramatize the situation in the first place — but such comments will have the reverse effect on an introverted child. It will create a “second wave” of blushing, even if nobody is really paying attention. The simple idea that all eyes will be on them — and when they are most vulnerable — is enough for them to feel embarrassed and may result in a blushing cycle.
The next reason not to tell them they are blushing is pretty logical: They already know. The fact that their face feels like it’s burning (due to all the blood flow) is enough for them to realize it’s happening. They are also probably used to it, so really, there’s no reason to tell them.
Unfortunately, afterward, the child is more likely to be ashamed of their feelings. They might try to silence or invalidate them, which is the real shame — seeing themselves as red when there are so many beautiful colors inside them.
3. Ask them to participate more.
Introverts replenish their energy by spending time alone. Even around others, they will sometimes prefer to spend time in their own heads or simply listen instead of actively participate in the conversation. That’s why asking introverted children to participate more in class makes them uneasy.
I never liked to speak up in class, and almost all my school reports had the same types of comments:
“Needs to participate.“
“Is too silent.”
“I’ve never heard the sound of her voice.”
All those comments never helped me in any way — they just made me feel different (and not in a good way). I then started to assimilate normality and success with being talkative. I’d blame myself every time I had the correct answer but couldn’t say it aloud. My self-confidence got very low, and I became even more quiet as a result.
Children usually have respect for their teachers and don’t want to disappoint them. That’s why teachers asking the child to be someone they cannot be is extremely frustrating.
Teachers need to adapt their teaching style to children’s needs, as everyone is different — what can help an extroverted student can be upsetting for an introverted one.
Thankfully, there are a lot of amazing teachers that understand, and cater to, children’s needs. I was lucky enough to be taught by one of them — she never put me on the spot or made me uncomfortable. Instead, I was allowed to work on my verbal skills in my own way. I think this teacher was an introvert, too, as one day she said something I’ve never forgotten: “You remind me of myself when I was your age. One day, you’ll know your worth.”
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4. Compare them to other children.
One characteristic common among introverts is overthinking. They will think about a situation, or something someone said, over and over and over again. Analyzing, and trying to find a deeper meaning, is natural for many introverts. That’s why comparing them to other children can be damaging, for this will lead them to feel different from their peers when all they want is to fit in.
“Look at Emma! How talkative and silly she is!”
“James has a lot of friends and good grades — maybe you should take after him!”
These sentences won’t help introverted children. Instead, saying (or implying) such things will make them start to lose their self-confidence and blame themselves for being quiet and reserved. They will become even more quiet — or go against their introverted nature by “faking it” and acting like the person they’re being compared to… which will eventually result in them being exhausted and losing their identity.
Since they are children, their strongest influence is adults — everything they say counts as fact and is rarely questioned. That’s why, if you compare introverted children to extroverted ones, the former will associate being quiet as a weakness and being loud as a strength.
I’ve often been compared, too. I remember this feeling of being stuck, torn between my desire to please and not disappoint adults whom I idolized, and my inability to act like someone I was not (and will never be).
By comparing your introverted child to other kids, you’re acknowledging (inadvertently or not) that certain personality traits are considered “better” than others (i.e., your child’s). Instead, what your introverted child really needs is to be accepted and reassured that there’s nothing wrong with them.
5. Labeling them as “quiet” (and only as that, nothing more).
When I was a child, the adjectives people used to describe me always contained a reference to my introversion:
“She is the shy one in the group.”
“She’s the quiet one in class.”
“She is the one who never talks.”
While I knew I was a quiet person, it still hurt me to see that that’s all I was in some people’s eyes. Ironically, I felt that being silent was the loudest thing about me.
The risk of reducing a child to being “the quiet one” is that they’ll end up believing this vision of themselves. As a result, they may not focus on any of their other characteristics that make them unique.
Also, it will be harder for them to act differently (other than quiet), as they’ll know that’s what adults and peers consider them to be — so they will feel uncomfortable acting outside the box of their given identity. Even if the child wants to act against what people expect them to be, the fear of that change being noticed publicly may be enough for them to stay quiet.
So let’s remind them of all the wonderful adjectives that make them who they are, not just say they’re “quiet” (with negative undertones).
The funny thing is, when people take the time to go beyond their first impression and actually make the effort to know the introverted child, they’ll probably end up saying something like this: “You’re not that quiet after all.” When comfortable with people they trust, introverted kids can be very talkative and fun to be around. And that’s them as their true selves — which is what matters most.
You might like:
- What Are Introverts Like as Children? Here Are 7 Common Characteristics
- 15 Things You Should Never Do to Your Introverted Child
- How Not to Overschedule Your Introverted Child
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