A perfect parent? Let me know when you find one. As for me? I'm a work in progress. My latest parenting journey is to find out how my introverted child "ticks." While I turn inward more than out, I consider myself more of an ambivert. I can turn it on and off. But one of my girls is a true introvert. I've been researching tips to help quiet kids thrive.
Related: Raising a resilient child
First a bit of background about Introverts
I started my research with Susan Cain's very good book Quiet. She makes a case for the blessing of introversion and society's need to value the introvert. Studies suggest 50-75% of the US population are made of extroverts. Right now our world is set up for extroverts. According to Psychology Today:
When you've got an introvert, the deck is a little stacked against them. Then I read a bit more about the types of introverts. There's some new thinking that there's many types of introverts. Psychologist, Johnathan Cheek says there are four shades of introversion: social, thinking, anxious, and restrained. Head to this NYMag page for a quiz that sorts out the different types.
Based of the Jungian perspective here's how it boils down. Extroverts focus on social connections and focus outward; they prefer to engage with others. Introverts prefer the internal life and look inside for answers and validation.
Knowing fortune favors the bold, I have set out to help my daughter thrive as an introvert in an extrovert's world. Don't think it can happen? I suggest you watch the Ruth Bader Ginsberg documentary RBG. A classic introvert, RBG uses her introverted personality to her advantage. Justice Ginsberg said her mother wisely raised her to:
And this is what I want for my daughter. I just need to figure out how--which led me to my latest self-help book, Quiet Kids, by Christine Fonseca.
There are a lot of great points in the book, but like 90% of self-improvement books 200 pages can really be distilled to a few core takeaways.
Action list for parents with quiet kids
Fonseca's book has some excellent tools to start the journey of working with introverts. There are lots of checklists and quizzes that jumpstart the process. Here's what I came up with.
- Define introversion: Many of us consider introverts to be secretive, shy and quiet. Not necessarily traits you lead with on a college application. From reading Quiet Kids, I reframed what introversion means. I say "reflective and thoughtful" instead. Semantics can be everything.
- Define the biggest issues with introversion: My child won't be heard, my child will miss out on opportunities.
- Define your parenting goals: for me, I want to help my daughter adapt her personality to different situations. I want her to have ALL possible options open to her. I don't want introversion to limit her.
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19 Tips for parenting introverts
Once I had a clear intention for why I was reading this book, I found quite a few answers. Here are my key takeaways.
- Ask specific questions. I'm not going to get very far with "how was your day?" Connecting with my introvert is better when I say, "how did the civil rights presentation go today? How did you feel making your presentation?" Then the key is to GIVE THEM TIME TO PROCESS THE QUESTION AND RESPOND.
- Lobby the Teachers. When the kids are younger, it's perfectly appropriate to communicate with your teachers and school about your concerns. Share that you fear your introverted child could get lost. My personal feelings are, this responsibility will have to shift to the child as they get to be a teen and in high school.
- Know the limits of the school. Recognize teachers can't fix everything. They can't change the class size and they can't be an advocate all the time. Today's classrooms involve a lot of group tasks and peer sharing. It's up to parents to work with teachers and our kids to make this situation tenable.
- Praise Effort. Celebrate how they learn. Introverts thrive when creativity and free thinking is stressed. They perform best with deep studies of things. They may take more time to process concepts because they are trying to take it on at its deepest level. They don't benefit from the "quick quiz" format many schools use. Praise the effort they put in, not the results.
- Exercise helps. Introverted kids aren't usually the ones running off to start a game of two-hand touch or basketball. Activities can be natural ice breakers for quieter kids. "The quickest way to rid the body of physcial effects of stress is though physical exercise," says Fonseca.
- Talk about Feelings. Introverts struggle to express feelings. Parents have to stress to their introverted children that sharing feelings is okay. Feelings are not embarrassing or shameful. Earn the trust of your child and honor their feelings.
- Predictability counts. Introverted kids function best in environments that are stable. They like schedules and knowing what's coming next. Momtrends tip: I use a whiteboard to lay out all the activities of the week; this help's my introvert know what's coming next. Establish a bedtime routine, a homework routine and a morning routine and stick with it.
- Leave Pockets of Peace. Introverts often become drained after social interactions. Giving introverts the chance to process the day is important. With my daughter's help, we've created a cozy room with a lofted bed. When she gets home, she loves a little bit of time in her space to rest and reflect.
- Clean up the Clutter. Introverted kids focus best in spaces that are calm and organized.
- Dealing with the Stubborn. Introverted kids can get really stubborn when overextended. Stressed kids are not capable of personal growth. They close up. "There is nothing to be gained by engaging with a child who is explosive," says Fonseca. Pick your moments!
- Don't demand compliance. It won't work well. Introverts don't respond to yelling or a harsh tone of voice. They need to be approached and guided when they are rested and receptive. Explaining the "why" also helps. They are deep thinkers and shouldn't be underestimated. Try positive discipline where you focus on teaching skills and praising success. Avoid punitive consequences.
- Respect privacy. Introverted kids should be given safe spaces where household members will respect their alone time.
- Keep Talking About Teen Subjects. When it comes to trickier topics...sex, drugs, plagiarism, etc., introverted kids may struggle. Parents need to double down with open communication. Broach these topics often and let your child know you are comfortable discussing them. Don't push your child to share immediately. Introverted kids may appear withdrawn, but are likely taking in more than you think.
- Pass off control. Help them be more flexible by giving them some control. Help your child recognize what he/she can control and can't control. Allow your introvert to control decisions that will leave them safe and not hinder his/her growth. Introverts need to gain a sense of"mastery." If they feel like they have some personal control of a situation, they feel strong and secure. Trouble is, when they are out in the world and cannot control the outcome, they tend to revert to the interior world of their mind.
- Learn to chill. Give your introvert tools to relax. In addition to exercise, there are a number of things that can help introverts recharge. Try breathing exercises (headspace meditaion app has some great kids' exercises), coloring, and visualizations.
- Pick Sports Wisely. "Let your child take the lead and explore a variety of sports," says Fonseca. Introverts can get stressed in team sports where they could let the team down with a missed pass or poor shot. Getting negative attention from coaches in front of peers can be unbearable for an introvert, so individual sports like swimming or running might be a better fit.
- Manage Risks. Introverted children struggle with taking academic risks. While they may think deeply, they are likely to give a teacher a report that's safe. Introverted children are highly resistant to change. "They would rather suffer through an unpleasant situation than risk taking action and having a worse scenario," says Fonseca. Teach your kids that learning only truly happens through risk and failure.
- Friendships are important. An introvert will likely only have a few close friends. Parents should be aware that when these friendships fade it can be very hard on introverted kids. If they lose a friend, give them the space to mourn and process this while also being supportive and a resource. Share that friendships are like life --there is always change and growth.
- Help with problem solving. Encourage your introvert to speak in the first person when they are struggling with a problem. For example, your child may be shutting down with math. When you do get him/her to open up, the introvert explodes when she gives you a quiz with a D on it and says, "My teacher stinks. Algebra is a total waste of time." Get your child to own it. A better response is, "I don't understand this concept and I'm struggling to get my teacher to explain it in a way that is clear to me."
My personal parenting rules
- Don't change the child, change the behaviors. There are nine million things to love about my introverted child. Starting with her kind heart and her compassion (two things the world can certainly use more of). I don't want to change how she sees the world. I want to give her tools to succeed in a world set up for extroverts.
- My pace isn't her pace. Ah, wouldn't it be nice if people were ready to learn when you wanted them to learn? It doesn't work that way. All parents know raising kids is a marathon not a sprint. Mr. Momtrends and I need to recognize that our desire for personal growth has to work on a timetable that we don't control.
- Agree with your partner first. It really helps to be aligned on how you plan to navigate these waters. Make sure you and your parenting partner are on the same page.
- Give the why. I tell my daughter about personal experiences. I give examples of times when I had to step out of my comfort zone to get a job I really wanted or to end behaviors that weren't serving me. Kids hate "because I said so."
- Lead with love. "I love you, no matter what," say it and show it. I believe our kids can't hear it enough. When I direct my child out of her cozy comfort zone, I'm sure it can feel unpleasant. Talk about the unpleasant feelings and put them out in the open.
I want to show my daughter that you don't have to yell "look at me, look at me" to be heard and to have your voice count. I'd love to hear your thoughts on raising our wonderful, wise introverts.
Resources for parents with introverted kids:
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