In my continuing quest to make the world safe for Introverts, I’d like to turn the spotlight on our kids. Introverted kids are virtually a persecuted minority. Extrovert bullies sniff them out and unleash their torpedoes of nastiness, leaving the young introvert tongue-tied and humiliated. Unless an introverted child has exceptionally understanding and observant parents, that kids is doomed to grow up feeling like a freak. The fact that most parents, statistically, are extroverts, only compounds the problem. If your child seems “different,” before you pack him/her off to the therapist, please consider the possibility that you have been blessed with a wonderfully creative, smart, funny introverted kid.
Here are some pointers to create an environment of blessing in which they can flourish.
1. Never label your kid as SHY.
I’ve seen it happen so many times, it breaks my heart. “This is my little girl, Aquanetta.” [Girl hides behind mom.] “Yeah, she’s SHY shy shy shy shy shy shy shy.”
Shut up, in Christian love. Never let the S-word cross your lips again with regard to your child, in public or in private. Don’t even think it. You are wrong.
Introverted does not mean shy. It means relationally cautious. And for good reason. After all, extroverts have no clue how they suck the life out of introverts, and it pays to keep the shields up until a stranger is proven safe.
For the introvert, SAFE = FAMILIAR. This is the Introvert’s Prime Directive.
Wise parents create all kinds of time and space for their introverted kids to grow familiar and comfortable with their surroundings and the people around them. Back off. No pressure. Your kid is fine. Don’t treat him as a walking personality defect.
2. Never PUSH your kid to be first.
The drama teacher asks for a volunteer, and extroverted mom is there, nudging her kid in the side, saying, “Raise your hand, raise your hand, raise your hand.”
And so another piece of your child’s soul drops into an abyss, never to be seen again.
Back off. Let your kid observe exactly how this teacher handles volunteers. Remember the Prime Directive. Once your son sees how the other kids kick the soccer ball around the cone, he’ll be happy to jump in. The name of the game is OBSERVATION WITHOUT PRESSURE. It is okay to encourage your introverted kids to get out of their comfort zones, especially as they grow older, but otherwise, you need to celebrate their hard-wiring, not treat it as a problem to be fixed.
3. Honor the SOLITUDE.
Dear Extroverted Mom and Dad… school and sports wear your kid out emotionally. The only way introverted kids can recharge their batteries is in a private space, alone, with books and/or art supplies, and/or a ball to bounce. It’s okay if they don’t go out and play all the time. It’s okay if they’re not the life of the party. You have to honor your child’s way of being by endorsing their choice to linger on the periphery as long as it takes. Yes, teach social skills. Yes, show how to greet a friend, show them how to invite friends to play. Of course. But don’t forget to give them their quiet space to re-collect the energy they spent dealing with the crowds. And be aware that, to an extrovert, that solitary time seems extraordinarily long. It’s not. It’s okay. Relax. Smile. Support.
[NOTE: if a normally extroverted kid suddenly becomes introverted, find out what happened. Bullying? Loss? Harm? That's not what I'm talking about here, but please do gently explore the cause for the change.]
4. Emphasize INDIVIDUAL sports and NON-COMPETITIVE activities.
Team sports can be hard, especially on the younger introvert… all crowded together in the scrum. Instead of football, soccer, or baseball, think Tennis, Golf, Swimming, or horseback riding. [In the comments section, I'd love to hear more suggestions...] Try art lessons, music lessons, or a gardening club. I have a friend whose son, an introvert, raises fan-tailed pigeons. Perfect.
Introverts communicate on paper. Through art. Writing. Crafts. Hints. A wise parent gives them supplies, space, and the right to make a mess.
Your child can shine, in public and on the stage eventually, if you work with instead of against their natural bent.
5. Wipe away your DISAPPOINTMENT.
No, your youngster is not the life of the party… not yet at least. No, your introverted child didn’t volunteer to play the lead in the school pageant. Yes, they are sometimes a panic attack just waiting to happen. No, they don’t like the Sunday School class; it’s too big.
BUT you have been gifted with an artistic genius. She will have deep and lasting friendships. Though avoiding small talk like the plague it is, he will learn to function well in society, and grow into a mature, self-assured young man. Introversion is not a problem to be solved. It is a gift from God to be embraced, nurtured, and respected. You are raising tomorrow’s inventors, artists, doctors, lawyers, musicians, authors, and pastors. Your child will form a handful of deep and meaningful friendships. They will go beyond the superficial. They will journey through a vast interior space, and from there give the world beauty and wisdom.
Your child needs approval from you, not the face of chronic disappointment.
Your young introvert needs approval from you, not an endless litany of suggestions.
Your kid needs approval from you, not a subtle message that he’s a freak of nature.
God entrusted you with a great kid. Make sure they feel like the TREASURE FROM HEAVEN they really are. That is job one for the parents of an introverted kid.
I highly recommend Susan Cain’s book, QUIET, if you want to understand more about the beautiful trait called Introversion. Click here to see the book on Amazon.
Your turn… were you an introverted child? What helped? How was that experience for you? Any tips for parents?