I knew before going to our friends’ birthday party that one of my children was going to have the time of her life and one of my children was going to be a bit overwhelmed. And sure enough, my daughter dove right into the water slide, chatted up total strangers, and put herself in line right behind the birthday boy for a light saber fighting lesson. My son? He stood back and watched the busyness of the bouncy house, commenting that he would like to try it “if nobody else was in there.” (Later, when all the other kids moved on to a different activity, he did go in once and was totally satisfied with the experience.) Afterwards, she was thrilled for an afternoon of chaos and he looked exhausted and ready to crash.
The reason I wasn’t surprised one bit is that I am fully aware that my daughter is an extrovert and my son is an introvert. Their personalities are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but neither of them is right or better than the other. They just are the way they are. But I have also come to realize that this means that they must be loved differently, appreciated in their own ways, and validated in a society that probably won’t treat them the same way.
I discovered The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child by Dr. Marti Olsen Laney. I found so many of the anecdotes and questions to be true of my son, even the most unusual ones like his feet getting cold at night and needing to sleep in socks. Some things seem like common sense, but seeing it all explained as to WHY he needs things a certain way greatly helped me. I cannot say that every introvert is like my little guy, but here are a few of the most helpful tips that I took away.
Introverts cannot be pushed or changed into extroverts. Their brains function differently and they are genetically wired to work as an introvert. They may need more time to process their words, thoughts, and feelings. They will definitely need more time to ease into new situations and can freeze under stress.
While a busy social setting energizes an extrovert, an introvert becomes drained. This is even truer if they are given a time frame and then pushed past it. I am now more careful about giving my son an estimate of time for errands and social gatherings because it can lead to a meltdown if I was way off. This great article explains why introverts can even feel something like a hangover if they are exposed to a social setting out of their comfort zone for too long. Imagine how hard you must concentrate to write with your non-dominant hand. Now imagine doing it for an entire two-page paper. You would feel mentally drained and tense from the effort of working through your discomfort. That is how your introvert can feel after a time of extrovert overload.
Introverted girls are considered gentle, quiet, and thoughtful. Introverted boys with the same qualities are described as weak, passive, or lazy. If you have an introverted boy, be sure that you are helping him feel confident about his abilities and qualities. Help him find activities that take advantage of innie strengths; the author specifically mentions martial arts, photography, or a musical instrument. Your innie boy or girl may also enjoy more individual activities like dancing, swimming, tennis, or running.
Praise for your introvert’s strengths can make a huge difference. Remind them there are tons of cool introverted people that are successful in fields like science, architecture, psychology, computer science, the dramatic arts, and even the military. According to Dr. Laney, “this is due to their excellent ability to focus and their willingness to explore topics in depth.” A few of my favorite famous introverts are Warren Buffett, Steve Martin, Bill Gates, Emma Watson, and even the brilliant J.K Rowling.
At our house, we have figured out that our son’s emotions seem to be right under the surface until they suddenly burst out. This is made worse if he is feeling stressed, tired, or hungry. (In case you missed it, I loved Maggie’s recent blog about using the H.A.L.T. method.) Your introvert may be a grazer who needs frequent healthy snacks, and just forget about getting them to sit down and eat a whole meal in a busy restaurant. Low blood sugar is not their friend.
Especially for older or teenage introverts, a private space can make a world of difference. They need an interruption-free zone for doing homework or just chilling out after a busy day. Innies are highly visual and may benefit greatly from soothing images and simple beauty. Screen time in its many forms may relax them but it can also be overstimulating and addicting. Choose a variety of ways to spend their time, both indoors and out. Even ten minutes can help your child refresh their mind and spirit.
In Dr. Laney’s book, there are also chapters about family dynamics, managing challenges at school, and how to help your introvert navigate friendships. Check it out if you need more information or just want to understand a loved one better.
I believe that both my extrovert and my introvert can grow up to be successful and confident in themselves. It just may take some effort on my part to understand them for who they are, then to love and accept them just like that.