When I teach parent training groups on personality style, one question that often comes up is how to best parent a child who is reserved or introverted. I always reassure parents that there is no one single personality style that is better than another. This statement often resonates in a powerful way with many participants since our culture does promote the extroverted personality style over the introverted as the way to be successful, popular and well-adjusted.
In actuality, there is much evidence that the reserved personality style is equally successful, popular and well-adjusted, especially when they focus on their unique characteristics and work in their strengths. If the parent is an extrovert themselves they may feel that they need to help their child become more outgoing and get more involved in a social network. I always caution parents and other adults in an introverted child’s life to learn to celebrate their child’s unique and positive characteristics rather than try to change them.
What is the definition of an introvert anyway?
According to Marti Olsen Laney in The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People can Thrive in an Extrovert World, there are three main differences between an introvert and an extrovert.
- An introvert gets their energy from within. They are energized by their internal world, ideas, impressions and emotions. Like a rechargeable battery they often need to plan ahead and replenish their energy by finding some quiet alone time. Extroverts on the other hand are energized by interacting with others. They are like the Energizer bunny that keeps going and going because the more they interact, the more energized they are.
- An introvert can feel drained and overstimulated by too many activities. They may need to dial down the amount of stimulation or simplify their environment. Extroverts on the other hand are energized by the external world of people, places and things. They enjoy lots of activities and stimulation.
- An introvert accrues knowledge by going deep. They tend to have a narrow but in depth focus in their interactions with others and in their experiences. They want to know a lot about any particular area of interest. Introverts tend to fewer but very close friends. Extroverts accrue knowledge by going wide rather than deep. They typically will have many friends and acquaintances and seek a wide variety of experiences.
There are many misconceptions about the introvert personality. Here are a few more facts about introverts:
- Introverts are not shy. Shyness is a form of social anxiety and both introverts and extroverts can be shy. Both introverts and extroverts enjoy interaction with people. They way that they are energized is the main difference.
- Introverts enjoy talking but they communicate differently than extroverts. Introverts think first, form their opinion and then speak. Extroverts think and talk at the same time, clarifying their thoughts and opinions as they speak.
- Introverts are not anti-social. They enjoy people just as extroverts do. They may be outspoken and lively, especially in familiar comfortable settings However, introverts will eventually need some quiet time to recharge their energy.
Parenting the Introverted Personality Style
The book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking , author, Susan Cain identifies research that validates the differences in personality style that even infants and young children display. However her main focus is the often-overlooked value and strengths of the introvert. She concludes her book with a section on “How to Cultivate Quiet Kids in a World That Can’t Hear Them”. Her advice to parents can be summarized as follows:
- Take the time to understand the personality style of your introverted child
- Don’t try to change them into someone more extroverted by pushing them into sports, activities, play dates or anything that they are not interested in doing
- Recognize that the areas where they have strengths are sometimes solitary pursuits. Encourage and celebrate these talents.
- Learn about and share with them the lives of some of the famous introverts, such as Rosa Parks, Albert Einstein or Eleanor Roosevelt.
- Recognize and teach children that introverts can be leaders, performers, really anything that they have a passion for, they just go at it from a different direction.
- Celebrate with your child the characteristics they have that make them uniquely special.
Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Friendship
It’s not easy being the new kid at school, especially if you are a cat and everyone else is a dog. How do you make friends? Can you even be friends with someone who is totally different from you? Wyatt the Wonder Dog helps solve Ami’s friendship problem with empathy and compassion. A great story for teaching children the critical life skill of making friends.