10 Signs Your Baby or Toddler Is an Introvert

A toddler shows signs of being an introvert.

Parents are always looking for little clues that reveal who their child is. Does he have a sense of humor, or is he more serious? Is she a daredevil, or does she play it safe? Are they an introvert or an extrovert?

According to Dr. Marti Olsen Laney in The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child, temperament (such as introversion or extroversion) is hard-wired. So, although we grow and change over time, we’re born as either introverts or extroverts. And you can tell fairly early on — Laney believes children begin to show signs of introversion or extroversion as soon as four months of age.

(Not sure what an introvert is? Check out our definition of introversion to be sure.)

So, here are 10 signs your baby or toddler might be an introvert.

Signs Your Baby or Toddler Is an Introvert

1. They are curious about the world but cautious about exploring it.

Introverts tend to be naturally curious. They may wonder how the world works or what makes a person tick. They’re not afraid to ask the big questions, seemingly on a perpetual quest to understand why.

But introverts also tend to be observers, preferring to watch and reflect rather than jumping in and doing. Your child might be an introvert if he or she hangs out on the edges of the play group, preferring to watch a while before joining in. Introverted children generally like to play it safe rather than take risks. Like introverted adults, they look before they leap and think before they speak.

2. They’re sensitive to their physical environment.

An introverted baby may get overwhelmed in loud, busy places; they may cry, or thrash their arms and legs. In 2004, Harvard psychologists Jerome Kagan and Nancy Snidman found that babies who are very reactive to unfamiliar stimuli tend to grow up to be shy, timid adults. As your child gets older, he or she may shut down, cling to a “safe” person, or have meltdowns in the face of crowds, new people or situations, or busy environments. Compared to extroverts, introverts are more easily drained by stimulation.

3. They had a low birth weight or were born pre-term.

A study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood – Fetal & Neonatal Edition found that babies born low-weight or pre-term are more likely to be introverts.

4. They clam up when meeting someone new but come alive at home.

Around an unfamiliar person, an introverted toddler may avoid eye contact and go quiet. Private by nature, introverts tend to need time to warm up to new people; introverted kids are no exception. However, at home, where your child feels comfortable, he or she won’t hesitate to tell you a story or be silly. It’s almost like your toddler is a different person around you and the family.

5. They easily become absorbed in solo play.

Many introverted children have a strong imagination and rich inner world that is very alive and present for them. If your toddler spends hours lost in focused play with a certain toy, he or she might be an introvert. Older children will spend time in their bedrooms with the door closed, doing solitary activities like reading, drawing, or playing computer games.

6. They have meltdowns after play dates or busy days.

Introverts get easily drained by socializing and need downtime to recharge their energy. When your child spends time with other kids, notice how they react. Do they seem tired, cranky, or overwhelmed after a play date — even if they had fun?  If so, they might be an introvert. Similarly, your child might cry or have a meltdown after a very busy day with no breaks.

7. They have separation anxiety.

Not all introverted children have separation anxiety, but it’s quite common for them to experience it. Introverts, in general, are more at-risk for social anxiety and depression than extroverts, and introverted kids are no exception.

What happens when you drop off your toddler at preschool? Does he or she cry, cling to your leg, and beg you not to leave? If so, your child might be an introvert experiencing separation anxiety. Here are some tips on our website for highly sensitive people for how to deal with separation anxiety.

8. They engage with the deeper aspects of life.

All children ask questions, but an introverted child will surprise you with their depth of thinking. They may seem older than they really are, somehow possessing insights beyond their years. Astonishingly, even at a young age, many introverted kids can step outside themselves and reflect on their own behavior.

9. They struggle to express themselves.

By definition, introverts are inward personalities. They tend to struggle with word retrieval, because, according to Laney, they may rely more on long-term memory than short-term memory.

When speaking, your child may pause frequently, searching for just the right words. They may get frustrated at not being able to express what they really mean. As toddlers, they may be drawn to stories, books, and art because these give them a language to understand and express what they’re thinking and feeling.

10. They rely on their inner resources.

Introverted kids rely on their inner resources to guide them rather than constantly turning to others. “In their private garden away from the material world they concentrate and puzzle out complex and intricate thoughts and feelings,” writes Laney. As a result, they tend to be independent and self-directed.

The downside is they may not ask for help, even when they would benefit from some adult intervention or guidance.

Celebrate Your Introverted Child

Introversion is genetic. This means, although at times your child will surprise you, he or she will always have a general preference for calm, minimally stimulating environments (and ample alone time). The key is to help them understand their introversion and harness its gifts.

As the parent, you play a huge role in shaping your child — science backs this up. Kagan and Snidman found that parents who were overly protective of their timid children actually increased their timidity. However, when parents encouraged some sociability and boldness — helping them step out of their comfort zones in healthy ways — they grew into teenagers with less inhibition and fear.

If you’re raising an introverted child, celebrate their quiet ways. Teach them to manage their energy and not feel guilty about needing time alone.

But also help them gently push their boundaries. The world could use more of what introverts have to give.

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Jenn Granneman is the founder of IntrovertDear.com and the author of The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World. Jenn is a contributor to Psychology Today, HuffPost, Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution, Upworthy, The Mighty, The Muse, Motherly, and a number of other outlets. She has appeared on the BBC and in Buzzfeed and Glamour magazine. Jenn started Introvert, Dear because she wanted to write about what it was like being an introvert living in an extrovert's world. Now she's on a mission: to let introverts everywhere know it's okay to be who they are.