I recently read Susan Cain's book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I now have a very different outlook on what it is to be an introvert. I can now see the benefits and not just the burdens. Following is what I wrote for the presentation about introverts I did tonight.
“So, what is introversion? It’s all about your energy. Extroverts get their energy from being around other people. Introverts get their energy being alone.
Introversion is not shyness.
Shyness = Fear of social
disapproval or humiliation.
Introversion = Preference for environments that are not over-stimulating.
Shyness is inherently
Introversion is not.[i]
Introverts can be very social; they just need time to recharge their batteries away from others. Introversion is a temperament – not a behavior.
Think about the children in your life. Do you know any who are introverts? They might
- need more processing time
- like to watch before participating
- not make eye contact
- only have one or two friends
- find it difficult to share their feelings
- learn by observing
- be very smart, even gifted”[ii]
One-half to one-third of the population are introverts. If you are not one, you are probably raising one, working with one, or married to one.
Introverts are thoughtful, value depth and experience, and recharge with introspection. However, we live in world with an Extrovert Ideal where the ideal self is outgoing, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight.[iii] In this environment, introverts might learn to believe that there is something inherently wrong with them. They may have heard their parents apologize for their shyness. At school, they may have been told to “come out of their shell.” Some kids might have been told they were “quiet,” “lazy,” “slow,” “stupid,” or “boring,” causing deep psychological pain.
In order to avoid repeating this for our own kids, here are:
Ten Tips for Parenting an Introverted Child by Susan Cain
1. Don’t just accept your child for who she is; treasure her for who she is. Introverted children are often kind, thoughtful, focused, and very interesting company, as long as they’re in settings that work for them.
2. Introverted kids usually have the capacity to develop great passions. Cultivate these enthusiasms. Intense engagement in an activity is a proven route to happiness and well-being, and a well-developed talent is a great source of confidence. Traditional childhood activities like soccer and piano may work well for some kids, but don’t forget to look off the beaten path.
3. If you’re an introvert who feels ashamed of your own personality traits, this is a good time to seek therapy or another form of counseling. Do it for your child if not for yourself. He will pick up on your own poor self-image, and also its inevitable projections on to him. If you can’t afford the time or money for therapy, here’s a simple way to change how you feel about yourself: consider that the things you dislike in yourself are usually a package deal with the things you like best.
4. If you’re an introvert, try not to project your own history onto your child. Your introversion may have caused you pain when you were younger. Don’t assume that this will be the case for your child, or that she won’t be able to handle the occasional sling or arrow. She can handle it, and she can thrive. The best thing you can do for her is take joy in her wonderful qualities, have confidence that those qualities will carry her far, and teach her the skills she needs to handle the challenging aspects of her nature. Such as:
5. If your child is reluctant to try new things or meet new people, the key is gradual exposure. Don’t let her opt out, but do respect her limits, even when they seem extreme. Inch together toward the thing she’s wary of. If it’s the ocean waves, for, example, approach at her own pace. Let her know that her feelings are normal and natural, but also that there’s nothing to be afraid of. When she takes social risks, let her know that you admire her efforts: “I saw you go up to those new kids yesterday. I know that can be difficult, and I’m proud of you.” Point out to her when she ends up enjoying things she thought she wouldn’t like or that she was initially scared of. Eventually she will learn to self-regulate her feelings of wariness.
6. If your child is shy, don’t let her hear you call her by that label. She’ll start to experience her nervousness as a fixed trait rather than as an emotion she can learn to control. She also knows full well that “shy” is a stigmatized word in our society. When others call her shy in front of her (which they will), reframe it lightly. “Sophie is great at [checking] out new situations.”
7. Get to social events, like birthday parties, early. Let your child feel as if others are joining him in a space that he “owns,” rather than having to break into a preexisting group. Similarly, if he’s nervous before school starts, bring him to see his classroom, meet his teacher, figure out where the bathroom is, and so on.
8. Teach her to stand up for herself. It’s best to start young, if you can. If she looks distressed when another child takes her toy, take her aside afterwards and teach her to say “stop” in her loudest voice. Practice saying – shouting – STOP. Make it a game. Be light about it, while letting her know that you understand her feelings.
9. If you have an “orchid child,” you are very lucky: If your child is “highly sensitive” – the term for kids who are sensitive to lights, sounds, emotional experiences, and/or new situations — then he probably fits into a category of children known as “orchid” children. This term derives from a groundbreaking new theory captivating the attention of research psychologists. It holds that many children are like dandelions, able to thrive in just about any environment. But others, including highly sensitive kids, are more like orchids. They wilt easily, but if they have good childhoods they can actually do better than dandelion children. They’re often healthier, have better grades, enjoy stronger relationships, and so on. One leading orchid theory researcher, Jay Belsky of the University of London, explains that parents of orchid kids are very lucky because “the time and effort they invest will actually make a difference. Instead of seeing these kids as vulnerable to adversity, parents should see them as malleable – for worse, but also for better.”
10. Respect your child’s desire for time and space to play alone.[iv]
Highly sensitive people tend to be keen observers who look before they leap. They arrange their lives in ways that limit surprises. They have difficulty when being observed (at work say or preforming at a music recital) or judged for general worthiness (dating, job interviews). Highly sensitive people tend to be philosophical or spiritual rather then materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. The often describe themselves as creative or intuitive. They dream vividly and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, and physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions. Sensitive people are sometimes highly empathetic. They tend to have unusually strong consciences.[v]
A highly sensitive child’s ideal parent is someone who “can read their cues and respect their individuality; is warm and firm in placing demands on them without being harsh or hostile; promotes curiosity, academic achievement, delayed gratification, and self-control; and is not harsh, neglectful or inconsistent.”[vi]
By helping introverted children know their own strengths and unique qualities, we can raise the next generation of deep thinkers like other introverts before them. “Introverted leaders like [Rosa Parks,] Eleanor Roosevelt and Gandhi, show us that we need these people who are deep thinkers. Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak and Charles Darwin are examples of introverts who needed their solitude to be as creative as they were.” [vii] So if your child likes to look before they leap, please let them.
[i] Susan Cain
[iii] Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
[v] Quiet by Susan Cain, page 136
[vi] Quiet by Susan Cain, page 113
[vii] Susan Cain