Introverted kids have an inner world that is alive and present for them. They engage with the deeper aspects of life.
As an introverted child, I lived partly in a small town in Minnesota and partly in my imagination. I was content spending whole afternoons by myself, writing books on construction paper and daydreaming. As a teenager, I had a group of friends I loved, but spending time with them drained me. They didn’t seem to need the same amount of alone time that I needed just to function. I told myself that they were the “normal” ones, and I should be more like them.
Later in life, I learned there’s a word for who I am — introvert. By definition, introverts are easily tired by socializing and need plenty of downtime to recharge their energy. Most important, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being an introvert! It’s not a weakness or a disorder. In fact, up to 50 percent of the population are introverts, which means there are plenty of us “quiet ones” out there.
Over the years, I’ve grown quite a bit as a person; I’m no longer the shy kid I used to be. Nevertheless, being an introvert is something that will never change about me. Even as an adult, I still love writing, daydreaming, and spending time alone. That’s because introversion (or extroversion) is something humans are born with, and it’s determined, in large part, by our genes. According to Dr. Marti Olsen Laney in The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child, kids may even begin showing signs of introversion or extroversion around four months of age.
So what are introverts like as kids? No two introverts are exactly alike, but introverted children tend to share these seven characteristics to some degree.
7 Common Characteristics of Introverted Children
1. Introverted kids have a rich and vivid inner world.
Their private inner world of thoughts and emotions is very much alive for them. And, they rely on this inner world — and their inner resources — to guide them, rather than constantly turning to outside sources for validation and support. “In their private garden away from the material world they concentrate and puzzle out complex and intricate thoughts and feelings,” writes Dr. Laney about introverted kids.
Because of their rich inner world, introverted children enjoy imaginative play and spending time alone. You can often find them in their own rooms or other secluded spaces, doing solitary activities like reading, drawing, or playing computer games.
Unfortunately, having a rich inner world can also be a double-edged sword, because it can lead introverted kids to feel isolated and alienated from their peers. They might be seen as “weird” for having a troupe of imaginary friends or wanting to spend their entire recess period alone under the slide. So, it’s important for parents of introverted children to help them see how their quiet nature can be a source of strength.
2. They are curious and engage with the deeper aspects of life.
Although quiet, introverted kids are extremely curious about the world, and they’re not afraid to ask the big questions about life. They want to know why something is the way it is, how something works, or what an event or experience means on a deeper level. At times, they surprise the adults in their lives with their level of creativity and problem-solving, seemingly possessing wisdom beyond their years. Often, even at a young age, introverted kids have the ability to step outside themselves and reflect on their own behavior — something not all children can do.
3. They observe first and act later.
When it comes to crowds and play groups, introverted kids will likely be found hanging out along the edges (much like introverted adults at a big party!). They may appear hesitant and cautious to join in, but it’s not necessarily because they are afraid. All introverts simply tend to “look before they leap,” and even adult introverts prefer having time to mentally prepare before socializing. Introverted kids may “come alive” at home — talking, joking, and being silly — where they feel the most comfortable.
4. They make decisions based on their own values, not on what’s popular.
Because their thoughts and feelings anchor them inwardly, introverted kids tend to make decisions based on their own standards rather than following the crowd. They “march to the beat of their own drum,” choosing their own music, clothes, shows, books, and hobbies based on their interests and not on what’s trendy. Although this can, again, put them at odds with their peers, it can also be a positive aspect of their nature because it means they’re less vulnerable to peer pressure. Introverted kids don’t do things just to fit in.
5. It takes time for their “real” personality to come out.
Just like introverted adults, introverted kids warm up to new people slowly, and you won’t see their “real” self right away. They may be quiet and reserved when first meeting someone, but as they become more comfortable in that person’s presence, they open up. Often their aim in conversation is to better understand their own or someone else’s inner world; they value connecting and really getting to know people on a deeper level. They may work hard to try to understand human nature and what makes someone “tick.”
Also, like introverted adults, introverted kids are generally good listeners, paying attention and remembering what the other person says, although they may avoid small talk and turn away if they aren’t interested in a topic. They may speak softly, occasionally pause to search for the right words, and stop talking if interrupted. They may look away when speaking to gather their thoughts but make eye contact when listening.
6. They may struggle in group settings, like schools and daycares.
Over the years, and particularly in Western society, our values have shifted and extroversion has become the ideal. We praise those who are outgoing and assertive, and we emphasize group acceptance and external accomplishments over quiet reflection and careful decision-making. And, this new standard of extroversion has been incorporated into every institution that introverted children will encounter in their lifetimes, from daycare to preschool to college. At a younger and younger age, children are spending time in daycares and preschools. When they begin formal schooling, they may spend 6-7 hours a day with up to 30 other children in a classroom — with little to no break from group work and socializing. All this can be quite challenging for introverts, writes Dr. Laney, who may do better at home or in small groups during their early years and adapt better to larger groups as they grow older.
7. Introverted kids socialize differently than extroverted kids.
Because introverts seek depth in relationships rather than breadth, introverted kids may have just one or two close friends and count everyone else as an acquaintance. They won’t spend as much time socializing as extroverted kids, and they’ll need to go off on their own after a while to recharge their energy. If there are tears, a meltdown, a bad mood, or trouble sleeping, this may mean your introverted kid is overstimulated — for kids, too, the “introvert hangover” is real! Their need for alone time may seem odd to you if you’re an extrovert; after all, socializing gives extroverts energy. Know that your introverted kid has a very real need to recover after a birthday party, play date, or even just a busy day at school.
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Introverted vs. Extroverted Children
How do introverted kids compare to extroverted kids? Here are some characteristics, in general, of extroverted children, summarized from Dr. Laney’s book. Extroverted kids may:
- Talk with a snappy patter and loud voice, even more so if nervous
- Switch subjects frequently
- Have the capacity to sound like an expert on a subject, even when they’re not
- Stand close to the person they’re talking to
- Interrupt conversations
- Look away when listening
- Be very expressive with their face, hands, or body when talking
- Get bored and disengage if a conversation goes on for too long
- Think of most people as friends
- Dive into new situations quickly
- Feel charged up after stimulating activities — especially social ones
- Complain or feel drained if they spend too much time alone
If you’re the parent of an introverted child, the best thing you can do for him or her is to honor their quiet temperament. Help your child understand why they feel tired and cranky after socializing. Teach them that there’s nothing wrong with needing to spend time alone, and help the harness the many strengths of being an introvert.
Above all, don’t ever let them think there’s something wrong with them because they’re an introvert. When we embrace “quiet” kids for who they are, we give them the confidence they need to fully show up in this loud world.
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