My 8-year-old-son, Jack, is an introvert. We can certainly debate the “nature vs nurture” argument here, but seeing as though my daughter is an extrovert and Jack has been an introvert since he was a baby, I’m leaning toward full-blown “nature” on this one.
Being an introvert myself, I’ve made a concerted effort to try and give Jack some tools to use in order to navigate life as an introvert–tools that I didn’t figure out until adulthood.
Growing up as a misunderstood, introverted kid wasn’t always easy and I want to help Jack learn to respect and honor his personality as much as possible and that (above all else) there’s nothing wrong with the way that he is.
Here are a few things that I’ve taught him in order to help him feel comfortable in his own shell and to smoothly navigate social situations:
1. Eye contact
Make eye contact when people (especially adults) speak to you. It often goes against everything that feels comfortable to an introverted child, but I gently remind Jack often to make (and hold) eye contact when speaking with an adult. I also remind him that it’s easier for adults to understand what he’s saying if he makes eye contact when he’s speaking (since his voice can be much quieter in these situations).
2. Remember your manners
You don’t have to talk more than you’re comfortable with, but you do have to be polite, respectful and answer questions that are directed at you. Sometimes Jack’s shyness causes him to clam-up completely when confronted with chatty strangers. We work on ways to respond that are comfortable, get his point across and are socially acceptable. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we…don’t. It’s a work in progress.
3. Alone time is a-ok
It’s ok to excuse yourself if you need a little alone time. For years, no matter who was coming to visit or how excited Jack was to see them, as soon as their car would pull up in the driveway he’d sprint off to his room and stay there until about 20 min into the person’s visit–sometimes longer. I don’t think that he likes all of the fanfare and attention that comes from an entrance. It’s always better to seek out a quiet space to gather your thoughts and recharge, than it is to push through and find yourself shutting down and acting out because you aren’t honoring your needs.
4. We can’t all be friends
You don’t have to like everyone but you do have to be kind. Recently, I took Jack to a birthday party for one of his classmates. As soon as a child whom he’s not particularly fond of walked in, Jack rolled his eyes and said (louder than I would’ve liked), “GAH! Freddy is here….ugh!” I told him later that it’s totally normal not to like every one all the time, but that it was probably best if he kept those feelings of disappointment about Freddy’s attendance at the party to himself.
Most of all though, I want Jack to know that there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert. We’re all built a little differently. Some of us thrive in social situations and some of us have to work a little harder to make social situations work for us.
My goal is to raise an introverted child who knows and unashamedly honors his own feelings and needs. It took me way too long to understand my own introvertedness and it made me a better person (to myself and others) once I realized what my limits were. I want the same for Jack, but earlier in life.
Are you (or have you) raised any introverted children? Any tips or advice on helping them to navigate life?