Photo: Jane Brown

As far as introverts go, my son is much more self-aware than I was as a kid. At three, he knew how to ask for “quiet time” after a stimulating day at preschool. By his 6th birthday, he knew he only wanted five friends at his party, because inviting the whole class (or even just the boys) was overwhelming and stressful for him, and even playdates were limited to one other child.

By the time he was 8, he knew which sports, extra-curricular activities and camps best fit his personality that would allow down time rather than the non-stop action that many other kids craved. He opted for cooking instead of baseball, and cross-country instead of soccer, and he made those decisions on his own, by simply understanding how he felt emotionally when he participating in those activities.

While I’m thrilled that he has learned to self-regulate at this young age, I also realize one of the hardest parts about being an introvert is explaining to other people (friends, roommates, co-workers, spouses) that you need down time, often over and over and over again.

I didn’t realize I was an introvert until adolescence, when I was thrust into a college dorm full people and noise. Everywhere. All the time.

It’s hard to explain your crankiness or need for time alone to recharge your traveling with your soccer team or on a weekend trip with your girlfriends. According to education experts, is very difficult for an extrovert to understand an introvert. So, inevitably, your friends will get mad when you cancel on a party at the last minute. The moms at morning drop-off will think you’re aloof if you don’t stop to chat. Even your spouse, who knows you better than anyone, will get frustrated when you don’t want to attend their work event.

But my 10-year-old doesn’t need to figure out all of that right now. Mostly importantly, he needs to know how to take care if himself, which includes knowing how to leave a social setting when it gets to be too much.

If you’re still reading, this is where the tip comes in!  Inspired by the popular “X Plan” that one dad shared regarding a code his son uses to escape high pressure situations, my son and I came up with a similar “V Plan” for highly stressful introvert situations.

Here’s how it works:

If my son is at playdate after school, a sleepover, a violent movie, a noisy pizza place, a party or any other place where he is overstimulated and ready to go home, I ask him a general question like, “what do you think?” or “how’s it going?” and he answers with a verbal reply, as well as a hand gesture. If he says, “fine” with a thumbs up, that means everything is fine. If he says, “fine” with a V sign (peace sign) it means he is ready leave.

If he signals with the V sign, I say something quickly like, “OMG, I forgot you have a tutoring lesson at 6, we need to run.” This gets him off the hook without having to explain to anyone why he is leaving a sleepover early or why needs quiet time to recharge.

We’ve used this code a few times already. Just last week we were at friend’s house and the family invited him to spend the night. He didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so he gave me the V sign, and we were able to make an excuse and escape successfully.

Since I am with him in most social situations, this plan works for us. As he gets older and has his own phone, we’ll use the same V code via text. He’s got a lifetime to figure out how to navigate social situations as an introvert on his own, but right now I think he’s doing an incredible job managing his own emotional well being.

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