If you’ve read my writing for any length of time, you already know that I am extremely introverted and that I function best when I have lots and lots of time alone each day. When Caroline was little I was sure she had to be an extrovert because she always wanted to be picked up, walked around, and in close proximity to us. It seemed like no matter how much attention we gave her, she wanted more. (Yes, it truly pushed me to the edge at times, especially as it related to bedtimes.)
As she has gotten older, I’ve realized that she is much more introvert than extrovert and is more to the middle of the continuum of the two than I am. So what have I learned about parenting an introverted child?
Introvert or Extrovert Test
I’ve been reading a copy of Quiet Kids: Help Your Introverted Child Succeed in an Extroverted World that I received to review from Prufrock Press. The author (Christine Fonseca) says that you can identify whether someone is an introvert or an extrovert by asking this simple question:
So how do you figure out what is dominant for you or you children? Think back to a time when you were emotionally spent. What did you crave in that moment? Solitude? Time to think, process or reflect? Or did you want to talk with a friend? Go to a social activity? Run and be active? The answer to these questions can help you determine your dominance–introversion or extroversion.
When I look at it that way, I can see that Caroline is introverted. If we’ve been out and about, she retreats to her room.
So what do we do with these introverted, differently-wired children? Here are some things I’m thinking about in terms of both being an introvert and mothering one. Many of these ideas are discussed in Quiet Kids which is an excellent book. Even though I’ve read a lot about introversion over the years, this is the first time I’ve read one from a parenting perspective. Even knowing myself and my needs as well as I do, I’m still gleaning a lot from this book. If you have an introvert, I highly recommend it.
Introversion is Biological
Introversion isn’t something you choose to be or not. It is part of your biology. The book explains how introverts and extroverts utilize different chemicals in their bodies. This one is a no-brainer for me, but I’m sharing it because I hear from people who say their parents tried to force them to not be an introvert and it made life very difficult for them. I can imagine that is true because it doesn’t work. If your child is wired to be an introvert, please respect and support the way that she is naturally wired.
Introverts Can Implode or Explode
I’ve already learned this in my own life. When I don’t get enough time alone, I become desperate. Fonseca talks in the book about the various ways introverts will struggle to manage their lack of recovery time. Some explode. Some retreat. Some dogmatically refuse to cooperate with basic requests because they have entered self-preservation mode.
Does this sound like your child?
If you have an introverted child who is on overload for lack of space and time, she may very well dig in her heels and become extremely uncooperative about routine things. Please don’t automatically assume she’s being combative or manipulative.
It may be that she’s desperately trying to cope as best she can. The younger she is, the less she’ll understand why she is even doing it.
Introverts Need Thinking and Reflection Time
Thinking and reflection time are needs. Like food and water and air. Okay, your child can probably get by without thinking time longer than water and air. But not forever. Not even for a few days without starting to feel the impact.
If you are homeschooling a child, take this into account. Introverts need time to think and reflect. They are not going to especially like fast-paced schoolwork that requires quick answers on demand. You are setting yourself up for a lot of battles and feet dragging if you think you can push an introvert to hurry up and give an answer all the time. Your introvert truly might need to stare off into space for ten minutes to think through an answer or even just get through the day.
Introverts Need Calm, Organized, and Predictable Homes
Caroline lucked out in a major way in this respect. Calm, organized and predictable is the way we lived before we ever had her. Our life is still this way (as much as possible with the addition of a spirited child).
But, in all seriousness, introverts need to live in a place that allows them to rest and think. Chaos in the form of noise or clutter is a drain for introverts. Give them their own room if at all possible. If this isn’t possible, make sure they have their own space and they have the opportunity to retreat to it ALONE when they need to do so. When your introverted child kicks her sister out of the room they share and states emphatically that she just wants to be left alone, she’s probably reaching that desperation point and not kidding that she needs to be left alone.
Love Your Introvert
Take the time to love your introvert. We live in a world dominated by groups, activities, noise, and demands. Each one takes a little bit out of us. This is true for your child as well. Love and care for your introvert in the way she needs. You will both be blessed because of it.