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 split my time between living in a small town in Minnesota and dwelling in my imagination. I was content spending spending entire afternoons alone, 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 was essential for me to function. I convinced myself that they were the normal ones and I should try to be more like them.
I found out later in life that there’s a name for people like me: introvert. This means we get tired from being around people too much and need time alone to get our energy back. Introverts have some great qualities that extroverts might not have. Also, about half of all people are introverts, meaning there are many of us “quiet ones” in society.
But one thing about me that hasn’t changed is being an introvert. I still enjoy writing, daydreaming, and spending time by myself. As I explain in my book, this is because whether someone is an introvert or an extrovert is something we’re born with, and it’s mostly decided by our genes. According to Dr. Marti Olsen Laney, children may start to show signs of introversion or extroversion as early as four months old.
So, what are introverts like as kids? While they’re all different, many introverted children often have these seven common traits.
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7 Common Characteristics of Introverted Children
1. Introverted kids have a deep and lively inner life.
Their private inner world of thoughts and emotions is very much alive for them. They depend on this inner world and their own ideas to help them make decisions, instead of always looking to others for approval or help. “In their private garden away from the material world they concentrate and puzzle out complex and intricate thoughts and feelings,” writes Dr. Laney.
Because of this inner world, introverted children like playing make-believe and being alone. You’ll often see them alone in their rooms or secluded places, doing things like reading, drawing, or playing on the computer.
However, this deep inner world can sometimes make them feel cut off from other kids. They might be called “weird” for having imaginary friends or for wanting to spend time alone, like sitting by themselves during recess. That’s why it’s important for parents to help introverted kids see that their introversion is actually a strength.
2. They are curious and engage with the deeper aspects of life.
Introverted kids might be quiet, but they are very curious about the world. They often ask big questions about how things work, why things are the way they are, or what something really means. They can surprise adults with their creativity and problem-solving skills, showing wisdom that seems beyond their age. Even when they are young, many introverted kids have the ability to step outside themselves and reflect on their own behavior, which is something not all children can do.
3. They observe first and act later.
Introverted kids often stay on the sidelines in groups or crowds, just like introverted adults do at big parties. They might seem shy about joining in, but it’s not always because they’re scared. Introverts, even grown-ups, like to think things through before they act, especially in social situations. You might see introverted kids open up and be chatty, funny, and playful at home where they feel safe and comfortable.
4. They make decisions based on their own values, not just on what’s popular.
Introverted kids often think and feel deeply, which means they usually make choices based on their own ideas and values, not just because something is popular. They may do things their own way, picking music, clothes, TV shows, and hobbies they truly like, not just what everyone else thinks is cool. This might sometimes make them different from other kids, but it’s also good because it means they’re less likely to blindly follow others. They don’t do things just to fit in with everyone else.
5. It takes time for their real personality to come out.
Just like introverted adults, introverted kids don’t show their real personality immediately. At first, they might be quiet and keep to themselves when meeting someone new. But as they get more comfortable with that person, they start to open up more. They like to have meaningful conversations to understand themselves or others better. They’re interested in getting to know people deeply. They often try to figure out why people do what they do.
Introverted kids are usually good at listening. They pay attention and remember what others say. However, they might not like small talk and might lose interest if the topic doesn’t grab them. They might speak quietly, take breaks to find the right words, and might stop talking if someone interrupts them. They might look away when talking as they think, but make eye contact when listening.
6. They may struggle in group settings, like schools and daycares.
In recent years, especially in Western countries, being outgoing and assertive is often seen as the best way to be. We often praise people who are sociable and focus on being popular and achieving things that others can see, rather than valuing quiet thinking and careful choices.
This preference for extroversion shows up in all the places introverted kids go, from daycare and preschool to college. Nowadays, kids start spending time in daycares and preschools at a younger age. When they start school, they might be in a classroom with about 30 other kids for 6-7 hours a day, constantly doing group work and socializing.
These settings can be challenging for introverted kids. They might do better at home or in small groups when they’re young, and gradually get more comfortable in bigger groups as they get older.
7. Introverted kids socialize differently than extroverted kids.
Introverted kids usually look for deep connections in friendships, so they might have just one or two close friends and see others as just acquiantances. They don’t spend as much time hanging out with friends as extroverted kids do, and they need alone time to get their energy back.
If an introverted kid has a meltdown, seems upset, or has trouble sleeping, it might be because they’re overstimulated. This is like an introvert hangover, and it happens to kids too!
If you’re an extrovert, you might find it strange that your introverted child needs to be alone after social events. But remember, while hanging out with others gives extroverts energy, introverted kids need some quiet time after things like birthday parties, play dates, or even just a regular day at school.
Introverted vs. Extroverted Children
What are extroverted kids like? Here are some characteristics of extroverted children, summarized from Dr. Laney’s book. They may:
- Talk with a snappy patter and loud voice, even more so if nervous
- Change topics often
- Sound like they know a lot about something, even if they don’t
- Stand close to people when talking
- Interrupt during conversations
- Look away when listening
- Use their face, hands, or body a lot when talking
- Get bored and stop paying attention if a conversation is too long
- Think of most people as friends
- Jump into new things without hesitation
- Feel energized after exciting activities, especially with others
- Complain or feel drained if they spend too much time alone
If your child is an introvert, the best thing you can do is honor their quiet temperament. Help them understand why they feel tired or cranky after being around people. Teach them it’s okay to spend time alone, and help them see the many strengths in being an introvert.
Most importantly, never make them feel there’s something wrong with them for being introverted. Embracing “quiet” kids as they are gives them the confidence they need in a loud world.
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