Instead of rushing to label your introverted kid as “shy,” normalize quiet moments and restorative alone time.
Growing up, I was often called quiet, shy, and introverted by my parents and teachers.
Coming from an Asian family, and living in Southeast Asia, my behavior wasn’t particularly frowned upon, as being silent was often considered model behavior of “the good child,” both at home and at school. This acceptance lasted until college and adulthood, when the same tendencies were suddenly considered “reclusive.”
Dreading dinner table conversations was a regular occurrence for me, as simply sitting at the table for an hour or so — as my family recounted their day over chit-chat — grew more and more draining. I never felt quite comfortable enough to share my thoughts and feelings, and as time went on, I simply waited for the clock to strike 8 p.m., when we would clear our plates and I could excuse myself.
This dread for dinner table talk was something I carried well into high school. I struggled to understand where my irrational anxiety stemmed from or why sitting down to simply share a few anecdotes and pleasantries over a meal seemed to grow more difficult every year.
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Becoming More Comfortable With Myself as an Introvert
Almost 20 years later, it’s easier to have empathy for a version of myself that struggled to figure out who she was, to be comfortable with herself, and who didn’t know she had a voice — because she was often encouraged not to use it.
As much as I believe my parents did the best they could do, I’m now aware that there’s a delicate balance to strike between embracing an introverted child as they are while also encouraging them to relate to others in their own unique ways. I also completely empathize with parents who had to figure out that balance for themselves and what worked best for their individual kids.
It can be tricky to know what to do to help an introverted child feel more comfortable in their own skin, especially when they are young and don’t yet understand whether what they’re experiencing is social anxiety, shyness, or simply being introverted.
However, rushing to label a child as “quiet” or “shy” can do them harm in the long run and take away the process of letting them find out who they are for themselves. Instead, we should make sure a child has the ability to authentically express themselves — whether that’s soaking up a great book on their own or joining their school’s debate team.
7 Ways to Help Introverted Kids Feel More Comfortable in Their Own Skin
1. Don’t call them out for not talking. Instead ask specific questions about subjects that interest them.
There’s nothing less useful or more awkward than calling out an introverted or shy child at the dinner table if they haven’t yet spoken. A gentler way to encourage them to speak is to ask them questions, particularly about subjects they’re interested in.
Instead of a vague “How are things going?” — which might leave them searching for something to talk about — try something more specific to make them feel seen and to show that you’re truly interested in what they think and feel. Ask them what they painted in art class, what they thought of a book they read or movie they watched, or about their favorite meal. This simple conversation tip will get them talking about something specific.
2. Identify their passions and create a safe emotional space for them to share them with you.
Similar to the point above, does your child get excited about music, reading, or dancing? Dinosaurs? The solar system? Roller skating? Whatever it is that lights them up and gives them that little spark of energy is a great topic to broach when you’re encouraging them to share more about themselves.
The key is to create a safe emotional space for them to share their interests, where they feel encouraged to talk about what they find most exciting.
3. Get comfortable with silence.
Some introverted kids may feel guilty for long pauses in conversations and assume responsibility for conversations that don’t flow well. Instead of creating the burden of fending off any lulls, just learn to appreciate the quiet pauses in between the chatter. Simply smile, give them a gentle nudge of acknowledgement, and enjoy a tranquil moment together.
Helping your child experience more positive emotions around the quiet moments — instead of just negative ones like shame or anxiety — can help them feel less self-conscious about natural breaks in conversations.
4. Normalize alone time as a healthy way to decompress and recharge.
Speaking of quiet time, normalizing alone time is another thing that will benefit your introverted child.
Modeling positive attitudes toward quiet and solitude can be a powerful way of communicating to children that spending time alone shouldn’t be something to be afraid or ashamed of, but something to enjoy, no different from the moments spent engaging with others.
In our highly connected, digital world — where few people make space for the quieter moments — it can be hugely beneficial to understand that taking some time to be by ourselves isn’t just acceptable, but extremely valuable for our well-being.
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5. Encourage a growth mindset by seeing quietness as a way of being, not a defining personality trait.
Encourage your child to think of quietness as a way of being and not a defining personality trait. After all, introverted children don’t need to be “fixed.”
While there are introverts, extroverts, and everything in between, it’s ultimately your child’s choice how they choose to show up in the world each day, regardless of how others try to define or label them.
6. Encourage them to share their inner world in ways that don’t require conversation, like art, music, or writing.
Introverted children often have talents that go unnoticed until given more creative avenues of expression. Whether it’s painting, dancing, cooking, playing an instrument, pottery, woodworking, writing, you name it, the possibilities are endless for kids to express themselves through other mediums beyond conversations and speaking.
And while they may not want to pursue these hobbies forever, they can still serve as incredibly helpful outlets to help them process their emotions and learn more about themselves.
7. Give them positive reinforcement when they do speak up.
As much as it’s important to respect a child’s introverted nature, it’s equally important that they develop their voice and feel confident in sharing their thoughts and feelings with the people around them (when necessary).
So when they do take the time to share something with you, make sure to affirm their courage and effort with positive reinforcement, which can make a world of difference. You might say something like:
- “Thank you for telling me how you feel. I understand it’s not always easy to talk about these things, but I’m here to listen.”
- “It means a lot to me that you trust me with your feelings. Remember, what you have to say is always important.”
- “I admire your bravery in speaking your mind. I’m proud of you for using your voice.”
Parents of introverted children, is there anything you’d add? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
You might like:
- What Are Introverts Like as Children? Here Are 7 Common Characteristics
- How to Raise a Confident Introverted Child
- 15 Things You Should Never Do to Your Introverted Child
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