Raising an introvert child in an extrovert society.

Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a centre. So we lost our centre and to find it again.

Anaïs Nin

Our society has placed extroverts as a golden standard: parents, school and employers expect a child/a person to be outgoing, confident and sociable.  Contributing to the discussions, taking an initiative, competitiveness and be good at public speaking seem to be a must for a bright future. 

What if your child is an introvert and does not like to be in the centre of public attention, prefers to have a deeper relationship with a smaller group of friends and occasionally needs to recharge the energy level by being on his/her own?

My daughter turned 8 this week and she did not want to have any birthday party. She does not enjoy competitions, she is uncomfortable joining new groups and takes her time to make new friends. She enjoys playing imaginary games or reading a book. At the same time, when at home or with a small group of friends, my daughter is a bubbly, chatty girl.

As a (mostly) extravert mum, I have made my share of mistakes with my child. When adults try to talk to my daughter and she does not reply, I jump in with the comment, “She is shy”.  Worth of it, I would push my daughter to talk to adults (like ordering in the restaurants) to the extent that she would get so nervous and get a tick. That made me stop and think. I started to look for help in some books and , luckily, I came across a wonderful book by Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop.

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The book does not only explain the nature of introverts and helps to understand their character better, but also gives practical advice how to make sure you help introverts not to go against their nature but let them flourish in the culture of extraverts.

Firstly, reading about other famous introverts across different fields reminded me that there is more than one way to achieve one’s full potential and have a satisfying life. People like Rosa Parks, J.K. Rowling, Albert Einstein, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates shook the world in a gentle way and lived (or are living) their lives in full.

Secondly, I will never call my child shy again. “Shy” has a negative connotation in our society and I do not want my daughter to see her nervousness as a fixed trait.  My daughter has her own style to communicate with people. She takes time to build the trust. She has the skills but she applies them when she is ready.

Thirdly, as a mum I am learning to expose my daughter gradually to new situations and people. We discuss her concerns and fears together beforehand. And I always give an option to quit the activity if it does not feel right. Let your children spend free time the way they like, not the way you think they are supposed to.  Even if the activity seems too solitary to your taste, remember that even solo activities like painting, creative writing, etc lead to a group of friends who share enthusiasm.  

As my daughter is very athletic by nature, I assumed she will have a great time in a group swimming class with competitions and races. She hated it as it was too hard to speak up with the teacher if she had a question or did not understand the instructions and competitions were too unnerving. While school choir, worked out well as my daughter knows most of the girls as well as the teacher.

Lastly, as parents we can teach our children some tips how to navigate in the society of extraverts. Things, like arriving first to a large public gathering helps to get used to the environment and “own” the space before others arrive.  One can choose a less threatening role in group discussions such as taking notes for the team or focus on asking thoughtful questions.  Child should respect her needs to have some solitude time to recharge the energy after a busy day to restore emotional balance.

 

I would finish by a quote from the book, “There are many different kinds of powers in the world. One child is given a light saber, another a wizard’s education. The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you’ve been granted”. I am blessed by having a gentle, thoughtful and sensitive daughter and I would not change a single trait of her personality in the world.

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