Have you ever wondered why that child who won’t give your ears a rest in the car suddenly loses the ability to speak when you introduce him to your boss? Or why your otherwise busy and active child clings to your body like a suction cup every time you walk into a birthday party?
It could be that your child simply doesn’t feel comfortable meeting new people. Or feels anxious at the site of a large, noisy group. It could be that your child is an introvert.
Introverts are people who prefer to be alone, rather than surrounded by friends. Introverted children usually can play quietly and occupy themselves for longer periods of time than their more outgoing peers. This all sounds like good news for parents, and it is. But it can also be frustrating watching our introverted children navigate through a society that is largely geared towards extroverts.
Many of our introverted kids also suffer with shyness. Shyness in children is just as common as shyness in adults. In fact, some studies place shy people making up around 40% of the population. Shy parents may relate to their child’s quiet nature and know first-hand the anxiety they can feel. For a parent who identifies more with the extroverted population, a child who is withdrawn and timid can be a mystery.
Regardless of which personality camp you fall into, as a parent of an introverted child, you need the tools to help your child navigate through this extroverted society.
Experts advise parents to begin by accepting their child as an introvert. Show him support by listening to his feelings and giving him permission to go at his own pace.
Bernardo J. Carducci, Ph.D. is the author of The Shyness Breakthrough and the Director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southern. He’s been studying shy children and their parents for years, and advises helping a shy child foster divergent thinking. Basically, he says, this means exposing your child “to as many different types of people, situations, and sources of ideas as possible.”
Other advice for parents when dealing with shyness:
- Identify what your child’s shyness triggers are. Does he clam up in large groups? When she’s in the spotlight? Be prepared to need extra time acclimating to each event.
- Teach your child social skills from an early age and role model these yourself. Practice introducing people and being introduced with your child as if it were a game.
- Set your child up for success. Find hobbies and talents that allow your child to feel more comfortable. Break uncomfortable events into smaller tasks, so your child can succeed one step at a time.
“The biggest mistakes parents make with their introvert children is forgetting that introversion is a temperament, therefore it impacts both mind and body,” says Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D., author of The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child. “To keep an introvert’s energy stoked, it’s vital to build frequent breaks into their schedule and to make sure they have protein in the morning, at lunch and with dinner. Otherwise they can have major meltdowns and they will be unable to learn.”
It’s important for parents to remember that children don’t need to be the life of the party or have dozens of friends. Children need one or two good friendships. And this is something attainable with introverted and shy children. Parents need to focus on helping their child build those few good relationships. And then relax and enjoy the beauty of raising an introvert.