Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Helping your introvert in an extrovert world

by Jason Caillier

“First day of the first grade….” That is the line of song in a popular VeggieTales cartoon that has been rolling around in my head for the last several days and especially today. This morning we walked our little first grader to his new school in a new city. Over the summer, our family packed up, moved, and headed to new frontiers and new possibilities. It was exciting…for me anyway. I am out going and love meeting new people and learning new things. As an extrovert, I am naturally energized by being with people and making new friends. My little first grader however is not an extrovert. He is an introvert through and through. Being around lots of people—especially lots of new people—is not his favorite thing. Things were going good this morning; however, when we got to the school and he stood at the door for the obligatory “first day of school picture” (which is already posted to Facebook along with all the other pictures posted by proud parents sending their kiddos to school), I saw a look of uncertainty and insecurity comes over his countenance. Moments later we had to let him go into that big new school with lots of people he doesn’t know and trust that things would be okay. Today is going to be a long day as we wait for the last bell of the day to ring.
So how do we as parents learn to help our children be comfortable with life even though they may experience life through a different set of lenses than we do?
Offer Sympathy
First, while we may not be able to empathize we can most certainly sympathize. Increasing your knowledge and understanding of the experiences introverts have in life will help you sympathize with your introverted children. Susan Cain is the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. I first became aware of her work in a TED talk. In her talk, she eloquently opens the window of her own life and experiences as an introvert allowing those who listen to get a glimpse of that reality. For those who are also introverted, they may sense a connection with Susan. The extroverted parents among us are given an invaluable gift to hear how our introverted children may be experiencing life. While she touches on it in her talk, the book explores in detail the rise of the popularity of the extroverted personality and how our American culture has valued that end of the spectrum often at the expense of the other end. It is an enlightening read that will help extroverted parents understand, value, and support their oppositely inclined children. The idea is not to change them, but to embrace their unique talents, abilities, and way of understanding life.
Offer Real Choices
Second, we must give our children true choices. Often we give our kids choices that ultimately we are manipulating. For instance, “Would you like to eat your veggies now or after you eat your meat?” or “Do you want green beans or carrots?” Seriously, there’s no real choice going on in those questions! When it comes to social situations we need to allow our children the opportunity to not have a play date if they do not want to. It’s okay. Let them read a book. Better yet, read a book together. They do not have to play on every sport team that is offered or be in every organized group activity available. There will definitely be times when we will need to help them engage in friendships, but their need may be slightly different than our own, and that is okay.
Offer Space
And third, create environments that nurture and energize our children as individuals. I know that after school my son is going to need some space, some down time, some decompression. We have to allow for it. He may be a little cranky from having his energies drained all day. The last thing I need to do is try to “correct the crankiness.” Part of sympathizing is being patient. Allow for those moments.
So as you look through your Facebook feed today and see all the first day of school pictures, realize that about half of those children are probably introverts. They did well today; they were challenged; they stepped out of their comfort zone. Now give them a break and give them time to recharge.

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