How Not to Overschedule Your Introverted Child

A parent with their introverted child

Introverted kids — just like introverted adults — need plenty of time and space to recharge their energy.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit and my daughter’s school shut down, I felt… relieved. I was terrified, of course, but also comforted by the fact that there would be no more anxious drop-offs, no more calls from teachers mid-day, no more tears at pick-up. 

As an introverted child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Quinn had struggled in kindergarten. She told me it was too loud there — of course it was, seeing as her class had more than 30 students in it. I gave her noise-cancelling headphones and had meetings with her teachers to brainstorm strategies to help, but her emotional outbursts continued. Even when the lockdown was only planned to last a few weeks, I had a feeling I wouldn’t be sending her back.

From In-Person Schooling to Virtual Learning

At first, we settled into a slow, peaceful pace at home. We went for long walks through the forest and snuggled on the couch. Her behavior improved and her anxiety decreased. But as the pandemic progressed and more events and classes went virtual, we fell into a new pattern: I’d sign her up for something that sounded fun and educational — video chat with an owl! Unicorn story time! Virtual scavenger hunt! — only to end up with a grumpy, stressed-out kiddo on my hands afterwards.

Turns out that being an introvert myself doesn’t necessarily protect me from making some of the same mistakes the adults in my life made when I was a kid. I’d been so intent on filling our days and preventing Quinn from becoming isolated, I had accidentally pushed her to her social limits

A year into the pandemic and our homeschooling adventure, things are feeling a lot more balanced. Here are some questions I like to ask myself these days before hitting the sign-up button.

6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Signing Your Introverted Child up for an Activity

1. “What is my motivation for signing them up for this?”

Is this something Quinn really wants to do, or do I just need a break? Now, I’m not saying there’s a right motivation or a wrong motivation. Me needing 30 minutes to myself is a totally valid reason to sign her up for story time. But when I start digging into my own thoughts and feelings, I often realize that there’s more going on than I thought. 

Sometimes we’d both be fine with a low-key day, but the subtle guilt I feel from growing up in a society that prizes productivity over idleness lures me to the registration page. By asking myself what my motivation is for signing Quinn up for something, I realized I tended to feel like a bad mom when I communicated my need for quiet to her. (Even though that lesson in self-care is probably way more useful than another class about crustaceans.)     

2. “Have they had enough downtime lately?”

This one might seem easy to answer on the surface, but not all introverts have the same downtime needs. I’m used to managing my own introversion — I’ve been working at it for more than 30 years. I know when I need fun and when I need rest, and it’s pretty easy for me to arrange my activities accordingly. Managing another human’s introversion, however, is a whole different story. 

My daughter is much more outgoing than I am — she has no problem running up to other kids at the park and introducing herself, or participating in swim class. But once she’s done, she’s done, and she’ll be happy playing Minecraft on the couch long after I’ve started antsing for another activity. 

It’s also important to consider the context of the day. Was yesterday really busy? Then an entire day of non-directed play and lazing about might be in order.

Enough downtime looks different to everybody. It’s important that when we ask ourselves this question, we base our answers on our real-life observations of our kids and what they’re telling us — not comparing ourselves and our children to other people.

3. “Is this event in line with their interests, or do I think it would be ‘good for them’ to do?”

My kiddo tends to be anxious and a perfectionist, just like me (and many other introverts). Because these issues are so familiar, my tendency is to want to sign her up for all the things that help me feel better — yoga, growth mindset workshops, meditation. But just because those activities are fun for me doesn’t mean they’re right for her, even if they are designed for kids her age. 

Quinn hates yoga class, for example, even kid yoga. She thinks it’s terribly boring. You know what she likes? Fart class. She took a virtual class about the science of farts three months ago and still talks about it. 

It can be really tempting to choose classes and events that make us feel like good parents, not ones that will be the most fun and educational for our actual kids. Kids are happiest and most engaged when they’re following their interests — as much as I’d love it if Quinn suddenly wanted to meditate, I’m happy to follow her lead and choose activities she actually thinks are fun. 

4. “What benefits will they get from this? And are those benefits important right now?”

Of course, I want my daughter to learn all the first grade things this year. I want her to keep working on her reading and writing and math. When I see her beginning to achieve those goals, I feel so proud — hearing her little voice read a book to me is one of my favorite things in the world. But I don’t want to be so caught up in making this year feel “normal” or “staying on track” that I end up pushing her farther than she needs to be pushed.

Academics are important, but kids are always learning, whether they’re signed up for tutoring or not. And during these challenging times, we’re all constantly learning. We’re figuring out the best way to move forward, the best way to cope. We’re figuring out who we are in this brand new context, and that takes energy.  

Society likes to remind us about all the benefits of vigorous academics, but there are also benefits to relaxing at home with your mom (especially in uncertain times). For many of us, it can be tough to shake academic anxiety. I still have nightmares sometimes in which there’s a huge science test and I haven’t been to class all semester — I don’t want to accidentally project that kind of anxiety onto my daughter.

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5. “Is there any fear lingering behind my decision?”

These days, I’ve learned to ask myself if there’s any fear behind my decision. Fear of the empty, unscheduled hours between the time she wakes up and the time she goes to bed. Fear of being a bad parent. Fear of having my kid miss out, or not learn something she’s supposed to learn. All these fears are totally normal, but if I let them lurk in my unconscious rather than bubble up and see the light, they’re more likely to control me. 

Beneath my pro-introvert, pro-quietness exterior, I still carry trauma from growing up misunderstood. As Quinn’s mom, I’m her biggest cheerleader and advocate. But I’ve also urged her to participate in online classes when she’s not in the mood. Pre-pandemic, I’ve dragged both of us to gymnastics when we would have felt happier at home, just so I could feel like I was being a good parent.

Subconsciously, I think I was trying to protect my daughter from my introversion. I didn’t want her to end up isolated or lacking social skills because of my personality, especially during the pandemic. Most of all, I didn’t want her to suffer the way I had. But in trying to protect her from the specter of social isolation, I ended up being exactly who I didn’t want to be: the anxious parent pressuring her kid.

6. “Am I being too hard on myself?”

There it is. For better or worse, what I’ve realized is that my fears about failing as a parent are rooted, for the most part, in my own insecurities. I worry that just being myself, an introverted mom, isn’t enough — that I need to give her more classes, more experiences, more activities, more excitement. When the reality is that just being myself — my introverted self — is probably exactly what she needs. 

Finding the Right Balance Between Too Few Activities and Too Many Activities

While we haven’t completely eliminated scheduled activities as a result of me asking myself these questions, we’ve definitely reduced them. I’m letting Quinn get bored these days, and trusting her to tell me when she needs to do something social. I’m also telling her when I need some quiet time, too. Most importantly, I’m trying my best to process my own lingering introvert shame and trauma so that when I look at my daughter, I see her clearly, in all her individual wonderfulness and unique needs — not as a smaller version of myself.

Do you have an introverted kiddo in your life? Pick up a copy of my picture book, Why Are You So Quiet? (Annick Press, 2020), from your favorite bookseller. 

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