Introverted children, that’s about one-third to one-half of the population, recharge their energy from time spent alone. (As opposed to time spent with other people.) Back-to-school time can be especially challenging for introverts. (We were so happy and comfortable at home during the summer with more control and choice over our activities. Now we’re thrust into a crowded classroom that’s most likely the opposite of the environment we prefer.)
Do you have a child with an introverted temperament? (You can take an assessment if you’re not sure.) Or read this article about the difference between shy and introverted.
I have two introverts. And I’m an introvert myself, although I’m likely closer to ambivert.
So, yes, I’d rather sit home and read than go to a party, or anything else social. Not that I can’t be social — I’m friendly and outgoing with other people. It just exhausts me.
Highly Sensitive, Highly Reactive
When I read Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I found it no surprise that introverts are more sensitive (reactive) to their environments: sound, smells, temperature, and so forth. Introverts even sweat more!
Highly reactive temperaments make introverts “quickly overwhelmed by childhood adversity, but also able to benefit from a nurturing environment more than other children.” Cain explains that both positive and negative experiences affect introverted children more intensely than extroverts.
Watching my introverted daughters grow up helped me understand this sensitive temperament even more than watching myself. Screen brightness is always turned low. Ear buds are always at their quietest. After school time in a quiet room is necessary. Highly reactive? I think so.
New situations, places, and people cause our introverted children anxiety and worry because they don’t know what to expect and feel overwhelmed. Does this sound familiar? It sure is for my kids. We talk through what to expect whenever possible. What do I do when it’s not possible?
Well just last night, my daughter couldn’t sleep because she was so worried about an upcoming overnight school trip. It’s to a place she’s never been, doing things she won’t know about ahead of time, and will be with her new fifth grade teachers that she’ll only know for one day. A lot of new.
Poor girl. Of course she’s worried!
One of her teachers told her not to worry, it would be fine.
I disagree with this approach, although I totally appreciate the good intentions.
My approach was to tell my daughter that I could totally UNDERSTAND her being worried. I praised her for KNOWING what she was feeling. (Good EQ!) I also shared that when I feel worried, it feels uncomfortable in my body. I asked if she felt the worry in her body. She shared how worry makes her have tummy aches. (Of course, I’ve know this for ever but she needs to realize it for herself.)
So first, I listen and affirm her feelings as valid. (I don’t tell her not to feel them.)
Since she won’t be able to preview the situation, I reminded her of previous times she’s felt worried and did the experience anyway. I told her that is the DEFINITION OF COURAGE!! (Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s feeling the fear and doing it anyway.) I told her she was amazing because look at this example and the other example of when she had so much courage. “Isn’t that what makes a hero?” I asked her then added, “I just realized. You’re a HERO!”
She groaned, “Mommmm.”
But it made her smile. And, I hope it made her remember she can do hard things. She is able to be courageous.
I also reminded her that those previous worrisome times turned out to be lots of fun. Fun she wouldn’t have experienced if she’d let her fear stop her.
Cain suggests you let kids know that their feelings are NORMAL and natural and also that there is nothing to be afraid of.
My daughter also needed to know that she will be SAFE with many adults who are there to keep her safe. That I wouldn’t send her if I didn’t think she would be safe. I also told her that if she really badly needs anything, she can always as a trusted teacher to call me on my cell phone and they will let her. And, if she’s uncomfortable with ANYTHING, she must speak up for herself — we’ve been working on this a lot. It’s really hard for her. Introversion and people-pleasing make this extra challenging. But, we’re reading a fabulous book together called Speak Up! A Guide to Having Your Say and Speaking Your Mind by Halley Bondy.
Introverts at School
There’s a clear push in education to prepare students for the perceived importance of group work in a business environment. Leadership is valued and extroversion is rewarded.
Which isn’t great news for introverts.
Being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re shy. But, it does mean you might need a few seconds to process and answer questions — longer than some teachers are willing to wait. Those extraverts wildly wave their hands in the air and are called on before the introvert can even think of the answer, let alone raise her hand.
Skilled teachers will wait. I used to count to five in my head, then call on someone. (I also consciously made sure I called on a different gender than previously. I had an every-other practice to make sure I was gender equal.) Hopefully your child’s teacher will have these same skills. If they don’t, and they’ve come to you about your child not participating, you might gently suggest that your child needs more wait time. Could they try waiting a bit longer for processing and bravery?
If you’re noticing that group work is the norm, you also may need to ask for modifications. It’s fine to learn how to work cooperatively but if it’s all the time, your introvert will be exhausted. Could your introverted child work alone for the next project?
Fifth grade teacher at Aspen Academy Chuck Fischer explains how he includes introverts (of which he is one) in the classroom, “I use wait time after questions. This can built into the question with a tag: “I’m going to ask a question, but then we’re going to think about it for 30 seconds before anyone responds.”” He encourages the dominant students to listen more which creates space fort he introverts and when he leads Socratic Seminar, he has an introvert start the seminar, even if he has to give them his opening question.
- “Number one would be to make sure to build quiet time into the school day, especially when kids are younger.”
- “Another would be reforming recess. Teachers should think about providing alternatives to recess, which for many students is unnecessarily chaotic and not that interesting.”
- “There’s one technique that a lot educators will know of already, but should be reminded of: it’s called “think-pair-share.” (This happens when instead of calling on one person, everyone gets to share their thoughts with a partner. I LOVE this strategy!)
- “I’d like to challenge teachers to rethink what they mean by class participation and start thinking of it as classroom engagement instead. Participation ends up rewarding quantity, so you get kids raising their hands for the sake of talking, and that’s not really in anybody’s interest. But engagement recognizes that there are a lot of different ways to engage with the material and with your peers.”
- “I also think we need to rethink classroom design. It’s definitely integrating way more nooks and crannies and alternative sorts of spaces into our classrooms, but also rethinking our school designs in general. We should be getting away from school design that has students jostling together in one gigantic mass of humanity. There are a lot of students who just don’t thrive like that.”
Please don’t think the world is against introverts. While it may lean toward the extroverts, there is much to be said for an introverted temperament!
In fact sensitive, introverted children have amazing strengths. For those children who are nurtured, Cain catalogues the benefits of introversion:
- fewer emotional problems
- more social skills
- do well in high school and higher education
- less likely to take extreme risks
- better at delaying gratification
There’s so much to appreciate, applaud, and admire!
Hug your kids and tell them how wonderful it is that they are who they are, and that you will do everything you can to nurture it.
For more reading about introverted children, I recommend The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child by Marti Olsen Laney Psy.D., 15 Ways to You Can Be an Even Better Parent to Your Introverted Kid,