Unless you’re the Energizer Bunny, you eventually will get tired. Everyone needs to rest and recharge themselves. But how we recharge is a huge distinguisher between extroverts and introverts. To some psychologists, it is the trait that most distinguishes between the two.
Extroverts are mentally energized by being among people, lots of external stimuli, and exciting situations. On the other hand, an introvert may enjoy those same activities, but she will find them mentally draining. She’ll need to recover from them with rest, where rest is defined as down time, alone time, quiet time, or all-of-the-above time.
An introverted child will need plenty of down time in which to rest and regain energy lost during socialization. And an Introvert Parent will most likely have no problem making sure the child gets the time she needs. But beware! There’s a tendency within you, my fellow Introvert Parent, that I believe is not in your child’s long-term best interests. You need to be on guard against it.
An opportunity we wish we’d had
One of my daughters likes to be alone. A lot. If unexpected guests arrive at the house, she runs and hides in her room. When expected guests arrive, she… well, she’s likely to hide in her room then, too. And I understand how she feels because when I was growing up, I felt the same way. I suppose many Introvert Parents did.
Susan Cain’s Quiet started a cultural conversation about introversion and extroversion. One of her theories is that we live in what she calls the “Extrovert Ideal,” “the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight.” But before Quiet, many of us introverts felt misunderstood, or worse, felt our preferences were ignored or belittled.
Knowing what we know now, we Introvert Parents can do better for our own children. So your son likes to be alone? Great. Let him be alone! Be respectful of his needs. Let him whittle away his leisure hours reading in his bedroom, or building with Lego, or whatever it is he likes to do.
But no one stays home forever. Outings, errands, even — gasp! — parties are not just facts of life, they’re good things. (Yes, even parties can be good.) And there are a few tips I’ve learned to follow to give my introverted children the greatest chance of having fun and enjoying themselves in such occasions.
- Set expectations. Don’t make the outing a surprise. Let your child know ahead of time that it is going to happen. An introverted child will have a lot of questions. Who will be there? How long will we be gone? What will we do once we get there? The more of these questions you can answer ahead of time, the greater the likelihood the introvert child will enjoy himself.
- Arrive early. Walking into an empty room is far, far easier for an introverted child than walking into a crowd. It will give the child time to get used to his new surroundings and environment without having to get used to the crowd of people around him at the same time.
- Not every outing is a chore. Sometimes, the outing should be to something he really enjoys, like an art class, or a superhero party. If the only parties he ever attends are crowded, noisy, and the opposite of everything he likes, then, of course, he’s going to sour on all parties. Show him what a fun outing can be.
- Let him take a breather. Just a few minutes in solitude, or silence, or both can be re-energizing. If he seems to be getting drained in the middle of the event, take a break from it. If it’s a sporting event, go visit the souvenir stand or concession stand, but do it during a time when most folks are in their seats. If it is a party at a friend’s house, take a walk around the block, or spend some time at a nearby playground. Relieve the pressure for a while, and he might be energized enough to make it through the rest of the event without a meltdown.
“Let her take a break” is good advice for time spent at home, too. A day the family spends doing some kind of activity together is likely exciting and fun for an introverted child, especially if she has a quiet, safe space to retreat to for a while if needed.
The hidden danger
As an Introvert Parent, you are thoroughly equipped and qualified to take care of your introvert child’s need for alone time. But you can also be your own worst enemy, especially if you grew up wishing you could have more time alone, or wishing your relatives understood you loved them, but needed to control the amount of time you spend with them. You’re a parent, so of course, you want to give your children a better life than what you had. But in this case, your tendency may be to coddle your children.
Though I have tried very hard to make sure my daughter gets all the alone time she needs, there are many situations in which I’ve had to draw a firm line between being supportive and being pampering:
- She doesn’t always get to “just stay home.” She has to do some things she thinks she doesn’t like. Am I trying to force her into the Extrovert Ideal? Not at all! I’m trying to prepare her for life. She probably won’t want to go to class in college, either. She probably won’t want to go to work. I don’t want to push her into the rat race too young, but nor do I want it to be a shock to her once she’s in it.
- She doesn’t have to be a social butterfly, yukking it up with everyone at the party. But she does have to be polite. She has to greet people. She has to say please and thank you. She doesn’t have to offer small talk, but she has to listen politely to it. Whether you’re introverted or extroverted, being rude is not OK. Wheaton’s Law applies to all.
- Sometimes I’m flexible on when she does her chores, but there are still deadlines, and sometimes, I just need the table set now. I give her a lot of leeway in making her own personal schedule, but when I need to step in and request her immediate attention, I need her to respectfully comply.
Having an introverted child is a dream come true for you, my fellow Introvert Parent, because such a child will share so many of your preferences in how to spend free time. Just be conscious of what you permit and the example you set; you don’t want your child to become the meme stereotype of introversion. He needs your help to stay more “I like quiet” and less “I hate all people except the Amazon delivery guy.” Help him to explore our loud, busy, wonderful world, not hide from it. Then, after the socializing is done, show him the truly spectacular things that can happen when you combine snacks, a sofa, and Netflix.