Sonali Gupta, a child phychologist shares her expert advice on how to raise an introvert child.
What do Bill Gates, J K Rowling and Abraham Lincoln have in common? All of them are successful introverts. We live in a society where extroversion is cherished and often considered as a strength. In fact, most of our institutions including schools are more designed for the extroverted. So parents of introverts, often wonder where and how do their children fit in these settings.
Is introversion a weakness? It really isn’t, but sadly, introversion is not just misunderstood, but also not accepted in society. Jennifer Kahnweiler, in her book Quiet Influence, an Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference talks about how introversion is a temperament. She mentions how it’s not good or bad but simply how people are hardwired that way. Sometimes when parents are extroverts, it may be tough to accept or understand an introverted child. Priya Agarawal, a kindergarten teacher at St Gregorios High School says, “It’s sad when parents count their own popularity in terms of how many friends their child might have. The best gift we can give as parents is to accept our children as they are”. It is important to recognise, in the first place, if your child is an introvert especially if the parents are extroverts. For parents, awareness can help them channelise the strengths of their child, without trying to label him/her.
Here are a few signs that introverted children show:
-The child prefers playing by himself, with his toys or imaginary friends
-Is comfortable being alone
-Enjoys the company of one or two friends and not big groups
-May not enjoy team sports or group-work assignments
-May take time to open up and join other kids in situations that involve activities
-Often feels tired after being with people and may need alone time to recharge
-Listens more than talks
-Is careful and observant
One of the key differences between introverts and extroverts can be seen from their source of energy. Introverted children get their energy from being alone and extroverted from being with other people.
One of the most common myths associated with introverts is that they are shy. But not all introverts may be shy. Bill Gates is a classic example. Shy kids may like to interact with others, but may feel anxious to do so. Introverts don’t necessarily feel shy, they simply prefer being by themselves. Albert Einstein, who was considered as an introvert, said “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind”.
Introverts may have, what I call, a quiet strength. Introverted children are often quite aware of their own feelings and may also demonstrate empathy. Often introverts have a deep ability to look within, observe and learn. They can be dependable, and although they make have fewer friends, they are reliable. Mumbai-based psychiatrist, Dr Harish Shetty, points out that introverted children are reflective. He disagrees with the common misconception that introverts are not assertive.
Introverted children may experience discomfort in a new environment. If you need to attend a birthday party or a social get-together with an introverted child, it would be a good idea to arrive early at the venue. It would help the child to settle in and gradually feel a sense of comfort.
It is crucial to introduce them to new activities slowly. So if at a birthday party, the child takes an initiative to participate in games with kids who he doesn't know well, it would be ideal to say something like “I’m really happy to see that you took the initiative of participating with other children, and I know it must have not been easy for you”.
Introverted children often have the potential for cultivating different passions. Reading, writing a personal diary or journal, engaging in an art form such as drawing or craft are activities that they enjoy. They may also enjoy sports such as swimming, running or skating, which don’t necessarily involve other people. Dr Harish Shetty points out that they can be introduced to games like badminton or tennis, which involve one-to-one interaction.
“Having a buddy may help the introverted child to adjust in class,” Priya points out. However, she feels it may be a good idea if the buddy is not very dominating but reasonably outgoing. Both Dr Shetty and Priya emphasise how parents can begin by setting play dates with one child at a time, and once the child feels settled, introduce another child into the setting.
There’s nothing wrong with being an introverted child. All they need is patience, understanding and respect for their needs. And the reality is that most of us are a mix of both introversion and extroversion. There isn’t a need for an introvert to strive to become an extrovert, or vice versa.
Sonali Gupta is a practicing clinical psychologist with 10 years of experience. She conducts workshops for increasing the emotional well-being of teachers, parents and children. She can be reached at email@example.com.