I am the youngest of five kids and grew up feeling at home in social situations. In general, I am energetic around people and thrive off of interaction. Although I don’t love labels, I closely resemble the textbook defintion of “extrovert.” Two of my three children, however, share behaviors that would be described as introverted, although they display these tendencies in markedly different ways. When they were toddler and pre-school age, I found myself feeling overwhelmed with the deep contrasts in how we process the world around us.
Although I sometimes feel destined to embarrass my kids, (I talk loud and laugh even louder) I am working on it. One thing is for certain; extrovert parents can benefit from being thoughtful about stepping inside their children’s shoes. Here are some of my best tips for extrovert parents with kids who tend towards introversion.
1} Ask your child if it’s okay to take a photograph.
Taking pictures without their permission can feel like an invasion. I admit that sometimes I will snap away when they’re not looking but I always, always show them afterwards. Kids may not want you to put their pictures on Facebook or share them on other social media outlets so as they get older, ask first and always honor their request.
2} Respect their privacy.
Ask permission before telling someone a cute story involving them or about one of their accomplishments. The attention may feel embarrassing.
3} Never call them shy. Ever.
4} Prepare yourself for social gatherings.
Offer lots of cuddles and safety in social situations. Children’s birthday parties, in particular, can be noisy, colorful, bouncing displays of emotion that have the potential to feel consuming or energy draining. Acknowledge and help them name their emotions. “You feel nervous/scared/overwhelmed. It’s okay that you feel this way. I won’t leave or walk away unless you tell me to.” For intoverts, jumping right into the activities can be difficult so let them go at their own pace.
6} Respect their need for space.
Allow and encourage time away from the bustle of the family. Even better, find a corner or nook in your child’s room and create a physical space. Think Lego Corner, Book Nook, Fairy Tent, etc.
7} Be mindful of over-scheduling.
My introverts do really well with one activity in addition to school. Sometimes they need breaks though, and it’s okay for them not to be involved in any organized activity for a while.
8} Be conscious of daily schedules and changes in routine.
If you have a busier day than normal ahead, talk your introvert through the plan. Let them know exactly where you are going so they can be ready.
9} Give downtime after school.
My introverts need time to switch gears after school and immediately asking about their day is not helpful. Instead, try making simple, loving comments like, “I’m so glad to see you” with a big squeeze. (If they are okay with public hugs.)
10} Respect their distance when interacting with adults.
When my introverts are comfortable with people and trust them, they have a lot to say. But until that point, it’s important that I don’t expect them to engage in deep conversation with other adults. They’ll get there.
11} Look for emotional cues.
Sometimes my introverts have tantrums, but more often then not they process emotions in a quieter way. One of my kids gets totally quiet and has “the look” on her face that tells me she is upset about something. I’ve encouraged her to ask to talk to me in a quiet, private spot, which helps her feel confident in talking about something that’s bothering her. Be direct and ask your introvert what is needed. Some snuggles? To walk the dog? To be left alone?
Although the benefits of team sports are numerous, it’s not always the case for a younger introvert who may not be ready to be steal a ball on the soccer field. Consider martial arts, gymnastics, swimming, or dance. Your child can still learn teamwork, but not necessarily feel as though the spotlight is glaring.
Make sure that your children’s teachers are aware of their emotional tendencies. Things that introverts may struggle with include public singing, dancing, yoga, presentations, etc.
15} One on one.
It doesn’t have to be anything big, but finding time for each child to be with each parent is so important, especially for introverts. It can be a breath of fresh air for introverts in a multi-child family and a space where they can relax and feel loved and important.
16} Just be.
This is especially important for extroverted parents. Sometimes we just talk too much and exude too much energy. Put in the work to embrace quiet moments. Introverts have a lot to teach us about the benefits of slowing down. Scratch their backs, hold their hands, color together, bake some cookies, ride bikes.
Now go and take notice of those quietly beautiful spirits.