It was Halloween night and my family and I were invited to a Halloween party at a friend’s home. Food, trick or treating, the works. The neighborhood was hopping, packed with cars and kids decked out in their costumes.
Stepping out of the car, I started to get energized by the people mulling around the neighborhood. My oldest son (14 years) was jabbering on about getting his costume ready so he could walk around trick or treating with his friends.
But my youngest, Gage (12 years) had a much different reaction. I felt him start to pull back and resist walking up to the house. It was swarming with people. He mumbled under his breath that he didn’t even understand why he had to come. His anxiety started to grow as we walked closer to the house.
I let him know that we would only stay about an hour and then we would head back home. He relaxed a little, but his body language was still screaming “get me out of here”. The entire time that we were at the party, Gage stayed glued to his dad. I was off chatting with friends and catching up with everyone, but my husband (an introvert himself) stayed seated in a corner with Gage right next to him the entire night.
When Gage was a toddler and young child I was very confused by him. You see, I am an extrovert. I love being with people, get energy from having a lot of friends and being included in things, and talk way too much.
Gage was reserved and hesitant. Before he would play with other kids, he would stand back and check everything out instead of diving in. He would talk to me in spurts – sometimes rambling on from one story to another, but other times staying silent which made it hard for me to know what was going on in his head. He would play alone for hours while his older brother (of only 19 months) would ask me to sit with him while he played. While Gavin, my oldest, wanted me to play with him all the time, Gage would want me for just a bit and then would rather play alone in his room.
As Gage got older and started school, he continued to need times of isolation. As soon as he would get home from school he would go straight to his room to play alone. At times, it seemed like he didn’t want to be with his family at all.
I remember meeting with his kindergarten teacher fearing the worst. I just knew she was going to tell me that Gage had no friends at school and that no one liked him. Instead, she told me that he was thriving. He enjoyed working alone, but when it was time to work in a small group he flourished there too. I was shocked!
I knew right then that I had an introvert on my hands. It was in that moment, as a mom, that I knew I needed to learn my child and parent him in such a way that would help him to flourish just as he is.
Are you an extroverted mom parenting an introverted child? Here are ten lessons I have learned along the way that might help you.
1. Your introverted child’s temperament is based on biology
I used to think that Gage would get over not liking birthday parties with huge bounce houses. Nope. I was completely wrong. Introverts and extroverts brains are wired differently, according to Dr. Marti Olsen Laney, author of The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child. Children’s temperaments are innate.
2. Being an introvert is not the same as being shy
I have learned over the years that labeling our children as “shy” isn’t honoring to them nor is it helpful. Just because a child needs a moment to warm up to people and may feel uncomfortable to have attention placed on them, doesn’t mean they are fearful of other people. Being an introvert is simply how their brain is wired.
3. Having an introverted child doesn’t mean that you are a bad parent
This was actually a big one for me. I had to work through the negative belief that I was doing something wrong as Gage’s mom because he didn’t want to be around people much. I also worried that people thought he was disrespectful because he struggled to have an engaged conversation with other adults that he didn’t know that well. I have come to learn that he simply needs to know a person well and be in a setting that he feels comfortable with before he can have an engaged conversation with them.
4. Know when socializing is needed and when it isn’t
As a mom of an introvert, I have had to step outside my own needs for socializing and instead step into Gage’s mind. After he has been at school all day, he will get in the car and tell me about his day. Sometimes he can’t wait to tell me what happened and other days, he just says his day was a normal, good day. I have learned to not push him for details, but to be a great listener when he is ready to talk.
5. Be okay with him only having one or two friends
An introverted child will only need one or two close friends. And sometimes, as is the case with Gage, he only needs to see them at school to have his friend tank filled up. An extroverted child may have five to six friends and tons of acquaintances that they call “friends”. But your introverted child will feel content and happy with a small group of friends.
6. Praise your child when he takes a social risk
Gage and I were at the dentist just the other day. The hygienist and the dentist were both outgoing people that were determined to get Gage talking. He was such a pro. He would look to me for reassurance, but he answered their questions with respect and even got comfortable enough to banter back and forth with them. (Gage is super witty!)
I made a point to praise him for being so respectful and having a conversation with the two ladies. He beamed with pride and told me that me being there as a buffer helped him. Praise without making him feel like he has to be someone he isn’t is key!
7. Help your child cultivate his passions
Your child may have intense – even unique- interests. Give him opportunities to pursue those interests. Christine Forseca explains this in great detail in her book Quiet Kids: Help Your Introverted Child Succeed in an Extroverted World. Intense engagement in an activity your child loves not only improves creativity and self-esteem, but also gives your child an opportunity to socialize with other children that share the same interests.
8. Don’t take it personally when your child needs alone time
Anything that pulls your child outside of himself – school, church, socializing, even navigating a new routine – will drain him. Don’t be hurt when your child retreats to his room to be alone and even away from the family. Gage enjoys reading, playing video games and his saxophone to recharge his batteries. When he was little he would head off to his room, talking to himself and playing imaginative games.
9. Make sure he is heard
Listen to your child and make sure he feels heard. Many introverts – both adult and child – need to have their thoughts and feelings pulled out of them at times so they feel heard. Introverts “live internally” and need someone to help pull them outside of themselves at times.
10. Celebrate your child’s temperament
Gage is kind, compassionate, focused and very interesting company as long as he is in settings that he feels comfortable in. I have learned to appreciate his unique personality and treasure who he is as a person.