Here’s What You Need to Know If You’re the Parent of an Introvert
There’s nothing shameful about being an introvert. In fact, the more you embrace your child’s quiet nature, the happier he or she will be.
You’re confused by your kid, because she doesn’t act the way you did growing up. She’s hesitant and reserved, and instead of diving into play, she stands back and watches the other children. She talks to you in fits and starts — sometimes she rambles, telling you stories, but other times, she’s silent, and you can’t figure out what’s going on in her head. She spends a lot of time alone in her bedroom. Her teachers say they wish she’d participate more in class. Her social life is limited to two people.
Even weirder, she seems totally okay with that.
Congratulations: You’ve got an introvert.
It’s not unusual for extroverted parents to worry about their introverted children — and even wonder if their behavior is healthy. The truth is, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being an introvert, someone who is wired to prefer a quieter, calmer life. Introverted kids behave in the way they do because of their innate temperament, and the more you embrace their inborn nature, the happier your child will be.
So, here are 15 things you must understand if you’re the parent of an introvert.
What You Should Know About Your Introverted Kid
1. There’s nothing unusual or shameful about being an introvert.
Introverts are hardly a minority, making up 30-50 percent of the U.S. population. Some of our most successful leaders, entertainers, and entrepreneurs, such as Bill Gates, Emma Watson, Warren Buffett, Courteney Cox, Christina Aguilera, J.K. Rowling, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, and Mahatma Gandhi, have been introverts.
2. Your child won’t stop being an introvert.
Can your child just “get over” hating raucous birthday parties? Nope. According to Dr. Marti Olsen Laney, author of The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child, introversion is genetic, and introverts will likely be introverts for life.
Just look to the introvert’s “hardwiring.” For one, their brains function somewhat differently, as introverts and extroverts may use different neurotransmitter pathways, according to Laney. (Read more about the differences between introverts’ and extroverts’ brains here.) They may also favor different “sides” of the nervous system: introverts prefer the parasympathetic side, the “rest and digest” system, while extroverts rely more on the sympathetic side, which triggers the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. Furthermore, a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that introverts have larger, thicker gray matter in their prefrontal cortices, which is the area of the brain associated with abstract thought and decision-making.
So if your child tends to be more cautious and reserved than her extroverted peers, rest assured there’s a biological reason for it.
3. He’ll warm up to new people and situations slowly — and that’s okay.
Introverts often feel overwhelmed or anxious in new environments and around new people. If you’re attending a social event, don’t expect your child to jump into the action and chat with other kids right away. If possible, arrive early so your child can get comfortable in that space and feel like other people are entering a space he already “owns.”
Another option is to have your child stand back from the action at a comfortable distance — perhaps near you, where he feels safe — and simply watch for a few minutes. Quiet observation will help him process all that new stimulation.
If neither of those options is possible, discuss the event ahead of time with him, talking about who will be there, what will likely happen, how he might feel, and what he can do when he’s losing energy.
No matter what new experience you’re getting him accustomed to, remember: Go slowly, but don’t not go. “Don’t let him opt out, but do respect his limits, even when they seem extreme,” writes Susan Cain about introverted children. “Inch together toward the thing he’s wary of.”
4. Socializing zaps your introverted kid’s energy.
Both introverts and extroverts can feel drained by socializing, but for introverts, the effect is more extreme. If your child is older, teach her to excuse herself to a quieter part of the room or a different location such as the bathroom or outside. If she’s younger, she might not notice when she’s tapped out, so you’ll have to watch her for signs of fatigue, such as zoning out, withdrawing, becoming irritable, or throwing temper tantrums.
5. Making friends can be nerve-wracking for introverts.
So give him positive reinforcement when he takes a social risk. Say something like, “Yesterday, I saw you talking to that new boy. I know that was hard for you, but I’m proud of what you did.”
6. But you can teach him to self-regulate his negative feelings.
Say, “You thought you were going to have a miserable time at the birthday party, but you ended up making some new friends.” With positive reinforcement like this, over time, he’ll be more likely to self-regulate the negative feelings he associates with stepping out of his comfort zone.
7. She may have intense — and unique — interests.
Give her opportunities to pursue those interests, says Christine Fonseca, author of Quiet Kids: Help Your Introverted Child Succeed in an Extroverted World. Group activities like softball or Girl Scouts may work well for some children, but don’t forget to look off the beaten path and consider writing classes, science camps, or other small-group pursuits. Intense engagement in an activity can bring happiness, well-being, and confidence (think Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s state of flow), but it also gives her opportunities to socialize with other children who have similar passions (and perhaps similar temperaments).
8. Talk to his teachers about his introversion.
Some teachers mistakenly assume that introverted children don’t speak up much in class because they’re disinterested or not paying attention. On the contrary, introverted students can be quite attentive in class, but they often prefer to listen and observe rather than actively participate.
Also, if the teacher knows your child is an introvert, the teacher may be able to gently help him navigate things like interactions with friends, participation in group work, or presenting in class.
9. Your child may struggle to stand up for herself.
So teach her to say stop or no in a loud voice when another child tries to take her toy from her. If she’s being bullied or treated unfairly at school, encourage her to speak up to an adult or the perpetrator. “It starts with teaching introverted children that their voice is important,” Fonseca writes.
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10. Help your child feel heard.
Listen to your child, and ask questions to draw him out. Many introverts — children and adults — struggle to get the thoughts and emotions swirling inside them out to others. Introverts “live internally, and they need someone to draw them out,” writes Dr. Laney in her book. “Without a parent who listens and reflects back to them, like an echo, what they are thinking, they can get lost in their own minds.”
11. He might not ask for help.
Introverts tend to internalize problems. Your child might not talk to you about his problem even when he wishes for and/or could benefit from some adult guidance. Again, ask questions and truly listen, but don’t interrogate.
12. Your child is not necessarily shy.
“Shy” is a word that carries a negative connotation. If your introverted child hears the word “shy” enough times, she may start to believe that her discomfort around people is a fixed trait, not a feeling she can learn to control. Furthermore, “shy” focuses on the inhibition she experiences, and it doesn’t help her understand the true source of her quietness — her introversion.
13. Your child may only have one or two close friends — and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Just like anyone else, introverts need some level of meaningful social interaction to be happy, but they seek depth, not breadth, in relationships. They prefer a small circle of close friends and aren’t usually interested in being “popular.”
14. Your kid will need plenty of alone time, so try not to take it personally.
Anything that pulls your child out of his inner world — like school, friends, or even navigating a new routine — will drain him. Don’t be hurt or think your child doesn’t enjoy being with the family when he spends time alone in his room. Most likely, once he’s recharged, he’ll want to spend time with the family again.
15. Your introverted child is a treasure.
“Don’t just accept your child for who she is; treasure her for who she is,” writes Cain. “Introverted children are often kind, thoughtful, focused, and very interesting company, as long as they’re in settings that work for them.”
You might like:
- 15 Things You Should Never Do to Your Introverted Child
- What Are Introverts Like as Children? 7 Characteristics
- 8 Confessions of an Introvert Living in a World Made for Extroverts
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