Parenting an Introverted Child
Though “Parenting an Introverted Child” is not my normal business-related blog, I thought this blog might be helpful to parents, especially extroverted parents, who struggle to understand the alienating responses of their introverted child and how to create an environment for the child that will reduce the child’s need to lash out when feeling socially pressured or sensory overload.
Introverts and Extroverts. What’s the Difference?
Carl Jung, followed by Katherine and Isabel Briggs, first defined the two opposing personality types of Extroversion and Introversion as innate preferences for interacting with the external world. Extroversion may briefly be described as gregarious and outgoing while an introvert is described as introspective and reserved. But more importantly is how each disposition gets their energy. Extroverts get energized by being around others whereas introverts get their energy by being alone in quiet solitude.
Introversion is Innate
Your child won’t stop being an introvert anymore than you can stop being an extrovert. In her book, The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child, Dr. Laney states that introversion (and extroversion) is genetic, biological and their brains are wired somewhat differently. According to Laney,
“Introverts’ and extroverts’ brains may use different neurotransmitter pathways, and they may favor different “sides” of their nervous system (introverts prefer the parasympathetic side, the “rest and digest” system, as opposed to the sympathetic, which triggers the “fight, flight, or freeze” response). Furthermore, a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that introverts have larger, thicker gray matter in their prefrontal cortices, which is the area of the brain associated with abstract, innovative thought and decision-making.”
While extroverts favor the sympathetic side of their nervous systems – which explains why they are always amped up and raring to go- introverts favor the parasympathetic side. This side deals more with conserving energy and relaxing muscles, resulting in a calmer, quieter and more reserved individual.
In another study done on introverts and extroverts, extroverts are less receptive to dopamine – a neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s pleasure and reward centers. So the more extroverts socialize and interact with others and the world, the more they stimulate that brain reward center and the happier and more energetic they feel. Introverts, on the other hand, are more receptive to dopamine and require less stimulation. This is why they re-energize by being alone.
Personality Traits of an Introverted Child
Your child is probably an introvert if s/he:
- Prefers ideas and images over people and things
- Tends to not jump into group conversations unless prompted
- Feels comfortable being alone and likes to work by themselves
- Has a few close friends and prefers one-on-one discussions
- Tends to need to go away and process a suggestion before responding or taking action
- Warms up slowly to new people and situations
- Listens more than speaks
- Is cautious in sharing her emotions and opinions
Successful Approach To Parenting an Introverted Child
Parents play a vital role in how they nurture and support their child’s temperament. I realize an introverted child will physically and verbally lash out, or shut down (which looks like they’re ignoring you) when they become overtired from social and sound stimulation. When pushed to depletion, you will see melt-downs, inflexibility and irritability. Social interaction and noisy places leave introverts drained and exhausted. They need intermittent quiet time to refuel.
Counseling alone will not change the child’s inappropriate introversion-related responses when feeling depleted. The relearning of how to respond when feeling depleted must take place at home in two ways. First, in the planfulness of how the parent creates quiet space for the child to go to and teaches them how to form habits they need to better take care of themselves. And second, in the immediate moment of exhaustion when you help your child find their quiet place to re-energize.
Set the Stage
Establish an environment that helps the introverted child create habits that give them the quiet and solitude that they need to re-energize in order to return to the social environment refreshed and ready to interact again. A habit is defined as “a settled or regular tendency or practice.” And don’t these habits tend to recur at the same place? Like brushing your teeth takes place over your sink? So first create solitude places for the child to go to and do regular practices. Such as:
- Establish one place where homework is done that can be quiet with no visual distractions or interruptions, either in a separate room or with headsets on playing soft, non-lyrical music
- The same would go for a place to read, or draw, or do any type of individual, creative activity.
- A swing or a tree branch or other outdoor space to go breath and find peace
- A yoga mat in the basement
No-Guilt Alone Time
Once you establish quiet places to go for an introvert, the key is to make sure a child (or an adult for that matter) is never made to feel rude or punished when they need to be alone. So create systematic habits and in-the-moment habits for peaceful regeneration time.
Systematic habits to consider include:
- Homework time alone as soon as they get home from school, or
- 30 minutes “you choose” the peaceful time activity (no t.v. or electronic stimuli unless it’s soft music in the ears) right after school before the hustle and bustle of the evening events
- 30 minutes reading or creative alone time right after school or before bed
- Always play the t.v. and music at as low of a volume as possible
- No electronics or t.v. 30 mins before bedtime
- Get to social events early so your child can transition into the crowd or event as it expands
- Attempt to remove the “rush” out of getting to or completing activities – calm is needed
- Keep extracurricular activity to a minimum, don’t over schedule with no alone downtime in between
- Talk through social situations beforehand to reduce apprehension and anxiety
Discuss with your child what “we” will do when your child becomes irritated and tired from all the social and sensory activity in order to provide them with down-time. Make sure you clarify with your child that it is what your child needs and in no way is intended to feel like they are being punished, but instead to give them “healing or regeneration time.” Then ask your child where they would like to go or what they would prefer to do in those moments to give them quiet alone space. Come up with at least three agreeable solutions that you will help them implement when you see they need time alone.
Use Your Words
Last, assist your child in creating a couple of polite phrases that will allow them to gracefully exit a situation when they are feeling socially spent. Example phrases may sound something like this: “You know, I need to do something by myself for a while. I’ll be back.” Or, “I gotta go. See you in a bit.” Or, “No offense, but I need to do something else right now. Later.”
Space and Peace Are Key to Parenting an Introverted Child
If you are parenting an introverted child, I hope this helps you help your introverted child find the space and peace that they need on a daily basis. And if you are not a parent, I hope this also helps you realize what all introverts, no matter what age, need to successfully have a positive relationship with you. And if you are an introvert reading this, you can feel the need, can’t you?