Every time you compare your introverted child to someone more talkative, this is what they hear: “You are not enough as you are.”
I still remember the first time that I failed.
It was a warm day in 1999 when, as a nine-year old, I shared with my family that I had failed my grade. Their disappointment was immediate. My grandmother turned to my mother and snapped, “What is this?! No one has ever failed in this family — her cousin got 87 percent this time!”
It hurt. I had been tested and had come up lacking. However, as an introvert, I had learned to keep my feelings to myself. And, swallowing my tears, I internalized it. Which meant that for years afterwards, I would chastise myself for any perceived weaknesses.
My internal dialogue went something like this: Why couldn’t I be more like my cousin? Or my friend? Or my classmate? Or my colleague? Or my… The list was exhausting.
Comparing Your Introverted Child to Others Has Long-Term Effects
If your child is an introvert like I am, comparing them to others and putting them down affects them deeply. Emma Watson, the actress who plays Hermione Granger in the famous Harry Potter films, once said, “…if you’re anything other than an extrovert, you’re made to think there’s something wrong with you.”
This can start in childhood when we start comparing our quiet and serious child with the cheerleader or student president in their age group. For example, growing up, I often didn’t want to participate in a debate competition or go to school social events. But it didn’t matter — I was forced to go anyway. Afterwards, relatives would ask how it had gone and how many friends I’d made.
The resulting social anxiety is something I carry well into my thirties. This sort of cruel comparison I experienced as a child hampered the way I saw myself in social settings and continues to impact me now, so much so that I feel apologetic and defensive at parties when I hear, “You don’t speak much. Are you okay?” Suffice it to say, I think that when parents compare their introverted child to others, it has negative consequences. Here are four reasons not to do so.
4 Reasons Why You Should Never Compare Your Introverted Child to Others
1. It lowers their self-esteem.
Every time you compare your introverted child to someone more talkative or outgoing (or whatever the case may be), this is what they hear: “You are not enough as you are.”
Parents may have the best of intentions — after all, everyone wants their kids to do better and excel. But, oftentimes, a child who is compared to others over and over again can grow up to question their self-worth. This is especially true when introverts are entering their teens, a time when they’re further discovering their identity and using social cues around them to define themselves.
Over time, they compare themselves to others and may start seeing themselves as unworthy. The result? They isolate themselves even more than usual, wanting to hide from the world.
This was true of my childhood — for many years, I was wary of any type of attention, not just because I’m an introvert, but because I thought it would only highlight my flaws. And it was not until a few years ago that I realized my grandmother’s scathing remarks had, in fact, become my inner critic. Sometimes, I would catch myself saying to other people, “You’re so good, I could never do that — I’m not good enough.”
And you know what? Most of the time, I hadn’t even tried; I had learned to self-reject. I had gotten into the habit of comparing myself to others before anyone else could do it for me.
2. It increases their stress and anxiety.
Constantly being told you are not good enough can take a toll on your mental health. It can make you stressed and anxious, creating thoughts like:
- “I am not trying hard enough.”
- “I can never achieve this.”
- “I will never be worthy enough for this.”
- “I just can’t.”
And so on…
For instance, before exams, I was always a wreck — there was the fear of failure, but also a knot of shame, guilt, and the dread of embarrassment, fueled by a lifetime of being pitted against peers.
As a typical introvert, my response to this was to buckle down. I wanted, as all children do, my family to be proud of me. So I pushed myself harder than most people… but the more I achieved, the more I had to lose. It was a vicious cycle — and one that seemed impossible to break.
3. It takes away from their strengths.
Every individual has unique strengths. As an introverted child, some of mine included a wild imagination, creativity, and the endless capacity to listen. But if parents or caregivers only focus on their little introvert’s weaknesses, it takes away from their gifts.
Former President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” This is truest when we speak about our strengths, those things that bring us true happiness and confidence. Families may think their offhand remarks don’t matter, but they do (especially to us overthinking introverts!). Instead of focusing on all our good qualities, we just focus on the less-than ones.
I spent a lot of time being a good child growing up. I was a model student, working harder than necessary on subjects I despised and extracurricular activities I did not enjoy. The result? I was miserable a lot of the time. My schedule was packed: I studied hard for Math Olympiads, attended sewing workshops, sat through hours of lectures on economics — all to prove my self-worth to others.
I hardly tried to discover what my true gifts were until much later in life — like writing creative fiction or taking up singing.
4. It can lead to resentment.
Eventually, your child can come to resent you for comparing them to others; I know I resented my relatives for a long time.
If your introverted child prefers to read a book instead of going out to play football, let them. If they’d like to take up chess and join the Chess Club, let them. By allowing them to be themselves, you are telling them, “I see you — you are not invisible — and I accept you just as you are.”
Being seen and appreciated will help your young introvert grow into a leader, thinker, writer, champion — anything they want to be! Comparing them with an extroverted child, on the other hand, will not help them become better. Instead, it may even discourage them from pursuing their dreams and natural strengths.
So the next time you are tempted to slip into this habit of comparing your introverted child, here are some things you can do instead.
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What to Do Instead of Comparing Your Introverted Child to Others
1. Pay attention to what brings them joy.
Instead of looking at your neighbor’s child and benchmarking your child’s progress against his, really see your own child. What makes them smile? Where do they feel truly happy? What introvert strengths make them excel?
Also, be conscious of your behavior. Have you gotten into the habit of saying, “Why can’t you be more like your friend or classmate?” Stop and think about the impact you are having. Are you saying it out of frustration? Is there a habit you would like to change? Do you wish you would have been more outgoing as a child and are now projecting this onto your child?
While my relatives tended to compare me to others a lot, I was fortunate enough to have a mother who kept a close eye on me. My mother was an extrovert, but she never forced her way of dealing with the world on me. She knew what brought me joy — and she made sure that she encouraged the introvert in me, even when she didn’t fully understand me. This brings me to my next point…
2. Focus on their unique talents.
Introverts have rich inner lives. Maybe your child has a natural tendency toward creative pursuits, such as painting, music, or photography. Or maybe their natural gifts lie in reading or writing. (Introverts make great writers, after all!) The best way to boost an introvert’s confidence is to recognize and celebrate their unique talents.
For example, I have always loved writing. It was as a teenager that I first leaned into it. It allowed me to express myself without an audience and was a safe space where I could be myself completely, and without judgment.
I’d write long, garbled poems for my mother, writing about anything that inspired me. As a beginner, of course a lot of my work was horrible, but to my surprise, my mother cherished it all. (In fact, she still has some of the poems that I wrote, carefully folded and preserved in an old, worn wallet.)
What a way to boost a child’s self-esteem! It encouraged me to write more — and better — to revel in my creativity and imagination.
So whether your child loves to indulge their introverted side as an artist, baker, or writer (or anything else), support their gifts. It can be as simple as paying attention when they bring you their first painting. Or being enthusiastic about a cake. Whatever it is, keep encouraging them vs. comparing them.
Is social anxiety holding your child back?
Although social anxiety is not the same thing as introversion, many introverted kids experience this painful and isolating condition. The truth is your child can learn the skills to overcome their social anxiety, and our partner Natasha Daniels can show them how. This means happier school days, less resistance to social activities, more friends, and lifelong confidence. Click here to check out her online class, How to Crush Social Anxiety. For ages 10+.
3. Gently encourage them to do better.
All of this is not to say that you shouldn’t encourage your child to do better. Of course you should! But instead of telling them what they’re not good at, talk to them about how they can improve. Work with them to come to a solution.
If you feel like your child is lacking in one area, try and understand why. Is it because they genuinely are not interested in that sport or subject? Is there something you can do to help empower them? Or can you focus on the skills they do have instead?
A simple statement such as, “I understand that you don’t do well in <insert subject> — why do you think that is? What can we do to make it better for you? Or what would you like to do instead?”
This makes it easier for them to open up and helps them share their worries without fear of being scolded or feel ashamed of who they are.
4. Praise them often (and in front of others sometimes, too).
Children are surrounded by comparison, and as they grow older and become acquainted with social media, this only intensifies. As they scroll through these platforms, they may often feel disillusioned and disheartened.
Help them navigate these times by clearly reinforcing a message of self-worth. Yes, we introverts don’t like being put on the spot, but being praised by our parents in front of others, in person or online, can also give us a self-esteem boost.
As I moved away from the influence of relatives, grandparents, and other toxic family members, my mother made an effort to praise me and gently encouraged me to do better in things I enjoyed. By letting me grow at my own pace, I was no longer resistant to new activities or experiences.
Let Your Introverted Child Shine… in Their Own Way
To sum up, help out your introverted child as much as you can — without comparing them to others. In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain says:
“Everyone shines, given the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk.”
So encourage your introverted child early on — and often — to take pride in their achievements. And soon they, too, will shine, in lighting that is just right for them.
You might like:
- What Are Introverts Like as Children? Here Are 7 Common Characteristics
- 15 Things You Should Never Do to Your Introverted Child
- How Not to Overschedule Your Introverted Child
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