One of the best ways to connect with my introverted and extroverted children as individuals is by spending time alone with them.
My oldest child is boisterous. He talks to everyone. Instead of having one friend over, he invites eight. He wants to be around people 24/7. And if left unchecked, he tends to dominate every conversation. It was clear from the moment he could walk and talk that he’s an extrovert.
As an introvert myself, it was always surprising to me when he would befriend whatever children were around him at the train table in the library. And it was exhausting to keep him reasonably quiet and under control in public, as he often just wanted to run laps and scream.
When his brother came along, I was braced for more of the constant activity and shushing. But my youngest would take a book and sit quietly by himself at the library. He would engage with exactly one other child, the same one, week after week, with little desire to smash trains with the gang of toddlers elbowing each other around the train table. And, shockingly, it was a pleasure to run errands with him in tow.
I learned quickly that I couldn’t parent my little introvert the same as his big brother. For example, while his brother needed several warnings and consequences to follow reasonable expectations of polite behavior, the briefest correction would send my youngest to tears. If I was going to build a strong relationship with him and parent him effectively, I would have to interact with my sensitive, eager-to-please introverted child very differently than his extroverted sibling. Here are five ways I parent them differently.
5 Ways I Parent My Introverted Child vs. My Extroverted Child
1. Don’t overlook the introverted child’s need for attention and connection.
When one child is constantly in your face, asking for snacks or just one more TV show, it’s hard to ignore them. When the same child bounces through the house, grabbing everyone’s coats and shoes, announcing they’re ready to go to the park RIGHT NOW, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. My extrovert child announces his needs to the world. If he doesn’t feel well, everyone in the county knows it. If he’s ready for lunch, he’ll move heaven and earth for those chicken nuggets and smiley fries.
I must constantly remind myself that my introverted child’s needs are just as important. But, most likely, he won’t confide them to anyone, myself included. And if he does mention something he wants or needs, even if it’s in a whispered voice, I should assume it’s extremely important to him, since he doesn’t broadcast every whim and fancy like his extroverted brother.
I try to steal quiet moments to gauge my introverted son’s feelings and to find out what’s on his mind. Yes, his brother is demanding we go to the park, but would he like to bring along a book to read quietly? Or pack a cuddly toy? Or get ice cream on the way home?
Even though his voice is quieter, I want to make sure it’s heard, too.
2. Take each child on a “date” to enjoy them as individuals.
I’ve seen this parenting advice a lot: Date your kids. And it works, especially when you have one kid who’s an introvert and one who’s an extrovert.
One of the best ways to connect with my children as individuals is spending time alone with them. That one-on-one time allows them my undivided attention. There’s no competition. No sibling rivalry.
I’ve had some of my best conversations with my introverted son while going to Starbucks or Waffle House (his favorites), and I think part of that is because his brother isn’t dominating the conversation or vying for my attention. Interestingly, his brother behaves a lot better, too, when he has me all to himself.
3. Don’t take it personally when your introverted child wants to be alone.
As an introvert, I should know not to take it personally when my introverted child wants to be alone. But it still hurts sometimes. I have one child who tends to gravitate toward the kitchen (the usual center-of-activity) and likes to share about his day, crack jokes, ask questions, and start conversations. And because my oldest is an extrovert, it was all I knew as a parent, so I got used to his behavior and expected it as “the norm.”
So, when my introverted youngest would tend to stay quiet after school and take the first possible exit to hide away in his bedroom, I would be left feeling cold. I craved hearing about his day, just as much as I had with his brother. But prodding would often backfire with moodiness or one-word answers intended to shut me down.
I must remind myself that he’s not trying to get away from me, personally. He just needs to be alone to recharge, especially after a long school day. On days when he has extracurricular activities, I make a point to give him even more space.
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4. Have the same expectation for both children (to an extent).
Though I don’t want to put my introverted son on the spot or make him uncomfortable, I do want to know what’s going on in his life. And he should know that his thoughts and opinions are important and valued in our family.
One trick I’ve found is to have the same expectation for everyone. For example, on Thanksgiving, we always go around the table and say what we’re thankful for. During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, we each added to a list of everything we wanted to do when the world opened up again. When my sons were being especially negative, during dinner each night, we started having everyone say one thing good about that day. Just recently, we got back from a vacation, and on the drive home, I had everyone say their favorite and least favorite part of the trip.
These little nudges have given me so much insight into my introverted son’s thoughts, opinions, likes, and dislikes. I also think it’s made him more comfortable sharing, because he knows it’s the expectation, and that he won’t be interrupted by his more vociferous kin.
5. Don’t force social interaction, but do suggest activities that allow connection in ways each child would find comfortable.
My older son, the extrovert, has a nonstop social calendar. But a lot of us don’t enjoy the same go-go-go lifestyle as he does (we’d find it exhausting!). At the same time, I don’t want my introverted child to miss out on all social interaction entirely.
He does have a few close friends and lots of interests. So I often give him suggestions and try to tailor them to social experiences he’d find most comfortable. For example:
- Would you like to have one friend over for two hours so you can play Xbox in person?
- How about going to that new movie we saw advertised?
- I know your D&D group ran out of time at school, so what about getting together with them at the library?
I don’t expect him to say “yes” every time. But he does sometimes, and when it’s on his terms, he enjoys himself much more than any sort of forced social activity.
Just like it took him a very long time to get comfortable ordering his own food at restaurants. But we practiced. Yes, sometimes he’d get stressed and ask for my help. But after a while, he got accustomed to it and now doesn’t even hesitate, even when he has a special request.
I find that showing my introvert child how to navigate the world — nudging and guiding but not nagging or forcing — is much different than having an extrovert child who boldly goes out, sans hesitation. I’ve learned to meet my introvert son where he is. Get his feedback. And support him and his preferences.
By parenting my introverted and extroverted kids differently, I’m showing them that it’s okay to be who they are. And that I love them, no matter what, introvert and extrovert alike.
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