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By Amanda Thielen
During my childhood I developed something I describe as “mind-blanks.” Whenever somebody puts me on the spot, my mind completely freezes and I can’t manage to stutter out even the simplest sentence.
Not only do I lose the ability to communicate verbally, but I am also fortunate enough to experience my face and chest turning splotchy, red and awkward when I don’t know what to say (which is often).
I spent 27 years thinking there was something wrong with me, until one day somebody told me, “I think you’re just an introvert.” I found out that all those years of humiliation were actually because of my personality. I also learned that I shared these characteristics with about a third of the population (Barford, 2012). I found out not only was there nothing wrong with me, but that my introversion is actually a good thing. Introverts and extroverts both have uniquely positive characteristics. We are different, sure, but contrary to Western belief, neither type is better than the other. I just wish someone had told me all this stuff when I was a kid.
What Does Introverted Actually Mean?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of an introvert is, “one whose attention and interests are directed toward one’s own thoughts and feelings: … a reserved or shy person” (2016). Many people use the words introvert and shy synonymously. I will be the first to admit that I used to be one of those people. Can you really blame us? The dictionary can’t even seem to get the definition right.
After finding out my “mind-blanks” were from being introverted, I did a bit more research and I discovered Susan Cain, best-selling author and mastermind of introversion.
During an interview with National Public Radio (NPR) News, Cain defined introversion as, “having a preference for lower stimulation environments. So it’s just a preference for quiet, for less noise, for less action. Whereas extroverts really crave more stimulation in order to feel at their best” (2012). During the same interview, Cain described shyness as, “a fear of negative social judgment,” while emphasizing that some introverts may be shy, but that some extroverts are shy too (NPR, 2012). Shyness is not a trait exclusive to introversion or extraversion.
Western society praises common characteristics of extroverts while often overlooking what Susan Cain would call, The Quiet Power of Introverts, the title of her first book. “Most institutions, from schools to workplaces, are geared towards extroverts, while introverts are often undervalued or misunderstood” (BBC, 2012). Further, “research shows there is no correlation between the most talkative person in the room and the best ideas” (BBC, 2012). Our society embraces extroversion, which can be really hard for introverted kids.
How to Tell if Your Child is Introverted
It’s important to remember that nobody is 100% introverted or extraverted, rather we each fall somewhere along the continuum. My husband, for example, falls somewhere in the middle and exhibits both extraverted and introverted traits.
The Center for Parenting Education (2016) describes common traits among introverted children. These include a preference for one-on-one communication, good listening skills and sense of self-awareness, and they learn best through independent time for reflection and observation. As a child, I vividly remember living inside of my imagination, another characteristic common among introverts. Another generally universal trait is the need to spend time independently to regain energy.
Advice for Parents of Introverted Children
- Avoid putting them on the spot
This is probably the number one thing that most introverts dread. I remember being a junior in high school expected to give a speech on a random topic with only minutes for preparation. I stood silently in front of my class for the entire time limit, before quietly returning to my seat. I was an intelligent kid. I was even on the speech team where I delivered carefully prepared poetry and prose. However, as most introverts, I need time to collect my thoughts before sharing them with others.
- Introversion is not a bad thing. It’s actually normal and pretty awesome.
As mentioned before, over a third of the population is introverted. More importantly, introverted children have grown up to do all sorts of incredible things just like their extraverted counterparts. “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” (Granneman, 2016). Help your child embrace their introversion, and remind them that their personality does not determine their capability for success.
- Be mindful of pre-bedtime activities
Remember how we talked about how introverted children often live inside their imaginations and how time alone gives them an opportunity to re-charge? These qualities sometimes create a need to adapt your bedtime routine to involve less independent quiet time. For introverted kids, it may be better to engage in conversation about their day or talk through what you are going to do the next. This is likely to leave them feeling content, but worn-out and ready for bed, as opposed to having built energy spending time alone.
- Communicate with teachers
Many educators don’t understand the nature of introverted children. Some teachers observe a lack of participation and believe the student is disinterested or not engaged. Try to open up the dialogue with your child’s teacher and gently explain how your child may learn better by not being pressured into participation. Beyond cultivating a greater understanding of your child’s personality, “if the teacher knows about your child’s introversion, the teacher may be able to gently help her navigate things like interactions with friends, participation in group work, or presenting in class” (Ganneman, 2016).
- Offer a Break
Sometimes a short break while in a social setting may be what your introverted child needs. It is critical to respect and validate their need to spend time alone, and to do your best to find a quiet place for your child to re-charge when they become overwhelmed. Gannerman suggests that breaks be offered after activities that require a lot of socialization, particularly school; she suggests, “anything that pulls your child out of her inner world—like going to school, socializing, or even navigating a new routine—will drain her” (2016).
Do you think your child may be introverted? Are you a veteran parent of a quiet child and have experiences to share? Please feel free to add your thoughts below!
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Featured image by Dmitri Ratushny via Unsplash.