Why it’s important for you to know…
By Irene Daria, MA
When my son started kindergarten, I expected that he’d happily participate in all the activities, just as he'd done in preschool. That's not what happened; at least not right away. When I came to pick him up during the first week of school, the other kids were playing together in the center of the classroom while Jamie sat contentedly on the sidelines, watching. After school, most of the kids ran around the school playground, but he stayed on my lap. A few of his classmates came over and asked Jamie to come and play but he calmly said, "No. I want to stay here." When I tried to talk him into joining the other kids, he simply said, "I don't want to Mommy."
Why not? I wondered. What had happened to my chatty, playful little boy? He'd shown me his true nature, that's what. My son, I discovered, is an introvert--even though, like most introverts, he acts extroverted at home, with his close friends, and in situations that are familiar to him.
Everyone is born with a predisposition toward a personality type. Extroverts are energized by interacting with others and the world around them. Introverts are drained by too much interaction, especially with a big group, and prefer to be one-on-one with people they know well. Although all kids display traits of both types, they innately prefer one style over another.
At age 5 or 6, when your child is, when your child is thrust into the new surroundings of kindergarten, his personality type will become more apparent than before, says parent educator Barbara Barron-Tieger, co-author of Nurture by Nature: Understand your Child's Personality Type--And Become a Better Parent. It may even affect his performance in school. "Extroverts learn best when they’re talking and interacting,” Barron-Tieger says. But they tend to get in trouble more than introverts do. They’re the kids who are often poking their neighbors, whispering to other kids, or calling out the answer. Introverts learn by watching and reflecting. They get positive reinforcement from teachers for sitting quietly and not interrupting, but may be overlooked in class. (To assess your child’s personality, go to www.nurturebynature.com.)
Recognizing your child's personality type will help you understand her behavior and also make you less likely to worry. For instance, if your child holds back at first, the way my son did, you'll know that it's simply her nature to observe initially and that she'll join in when she’s ready. Because you can’t change your child’s personality, the best way to help her feel good about herself—and to cut down on conflicts between the two of you—is to accept who she is. Here are some other things you can do to help your child thrive:
If your child is an introvert:
* Talk to the teacher. At the start of each year, tell the teacher that your child will need time to get acclimated before he’ll be ready to raise his hand in class. This will help make sure he doesn’t get overshadowed by his more outspoken classmates.
* Give her time to answer. Introverts mull things over and won't speak until they've decided exactly what they want to say. Respect your child's slower pace, and don't finish her sentences.
* Don't quiz him about his day. Asking an introvert questions makes him withdraw more because he’ll need to reflect on each one. The best way to get an introverted child to tell you about his day is to simply talk about your own day. Tell him what you saw or did but pause frequently in between. During those pauses you'll find your child opening up and talking about his day too.
* Respect your child's preference for small, intimate gatherings. Parents of introverted children are sometimes at a loss when planning their child's birthday party. "They'll ask their child who they want to invite and the child will name two kids," says school psychologist Elizabeth Murphy, Ph.D., author of The Developing Child: Using Jungian Type to Understand Children. The parent will, mistakenly, assume their child would be happier if more children were included. Not so! If your child says she wants to invite just a few friends, forget about holding a traditional party and instead take her and her best friends to an activity they love, such as bowling or ice skating.
* Encourage your child to go on a few play dates. Even though it may be tempting to let your shy child stay home when he wants to, do try to get him interacting with his peers. The more practice he gets, the better he'll be at it.
* Give your child space when he's angry. While extroverts will tell you right away--loudly and clearly--when they are mad or upset, introverts tend to clam up and leave the room. "Introverted children need to resolve their angry feelings inside themselves before they are able to talk about them with others," says Murphy.
The next time your child heads for his bedroom when he's upset, let him go. "Do not try to get them to talk to you at that moment," says Murphy. A better idea is to say, "It looks like you're angry and when you're ready to talk about it I'll be here."
*Arrive early at parties or at a new setting. This will give your child the time he needs to get acclimated before he feels ready to interact.
* Make eye contact when you tell him to do something. "Introverts have a rich inner life," says Barron-Tieger. "They have a constant stream of thoughts running in their heads, or they get so focused on something that interests them, that they tune out the rest of the world." So the next time you tell your child to go put on his socks and he keeps on playing with his truck, break into his stream of thoughts by tapping him on the shoulder, or calling his name until he looks up and makes eye contact with you. That's the time to communicate your message to him.
If you're the parent of an extrovert:
* Let her think out loud. "Words go out of an extrovert's mouth, into her ears and then into her brain," says Dr. Murphy. "Because your child talks about her ideas as she’s forming them, you may think she’s just rambling. But if you interrupt her, she’ll lost her train of thought.” It’s best to encourage her to keep talking by saying, "Uh-huh" or "I see" until she reaches her conclusion.
* Teach him how to wait his turn to speak. Extroverts want to share their ideas as soon as they have them. You can help your child practice patience by insisting that certain times—such as dinner, or rides in the car—are times when everyone takes turns sharing ideas, listening, and waiting for others to finish their sentences. After school, however, your extroverted child will need to immediately tell you all about her day in school. That’s because talking helps him make sense of his experiences. If you’re home, make sure you give your child a chance to talk to you before you start making dinner or doing whatever else you need to do. If you’re at work, set aside 15 minutes to talk to your child on the phone. If that’s not possible, make sure your babysitter knows how important it is for her to listen to the stories your child will share when he walks out the door at school.
* Understand that lying is normal. My son's extroverted classmate, Isabella, has told people that she has a baby sister, as well as a dog, kitten and bird; that she's allergic to various foods, and that her mommy is pregnant--none of which are true.
A child's tendency to lie can be quite upsetting to parents. But Barron-Tieger points out that extroverts aren't intentionally trying to mislead anyone. Their main mission in life is to forge social connections with people and they do so by blurting out the first thing that comes into their minds. If they happen to have an active imagination, like Isabella does, they'll blurt out some pretty outrageous statements.
When this happens, Barron-Tieger recommends remaining silent for a moment since sometimes your child will correct herself. If she doesn't, say something like, "Wow, you have quite an imagination." This will let the other person know that what your child has said isn't true without embarrassing your child. When you and your child are alone, talk to her about the importance of honesty.
Remember that it's hard for him to do anything alone. "If you send an extrovert to clean up his room
by himself, his energy will begin to drain away and he'll get off track," says Barron-Tieger. Either do it with him or stay nearby.
Each personality type has its own merits. Extroverted children tend to experience life in all its richness. Since they are so "out there" they will attract many people and opportunities into their lives. Introverts will have fewer experiences, and fewer friends, but they will experience those they do have with great depth. That's because they have such heartfelt, thoughtful reactions to events and to people. You've probably already noticed how empathetic your child introverted can be. As he gets older, he'll become even more of a good listener who will always be there for his close friends. And they, in turn, will be there for him.
What's shyness got to do with it?
Shyness can strike introverts and extroverts and many introverts aren’t shy at all.
"Introversion and extroversion are both healthy ways of functioning, while shyness is generally regarded as unhealthy," says educator Gordon Lawrence, Ph.D., author of People Types and Tiger Stripes. "Shy kids are uncomfortable dealing with other people, usually because they think their thoughts and behavior won't be accepted." Introverts aren't necessarily worried about what others think of them. They simply prefer to get a handle on new situations before joining in, and they don’t their thoughts and feelings as readily as extroverts do. If that label is repeatedly (and mistakenly) applied to your child, he may begin to feel bad about himself and actually become shy. So the next time someone calls your introverted child shy, simply say, "He's not shy. He just doesn't feel like talking right now."