Introverts are Not Retarded or Anti-Social
Summary: The world is full of extroverts and reflects their extroverted ways. This is hard on introverts. The Dos and Don’ts of working with an introverted child.
If you’re an introvert you’ve heard it all. Extroverts think you’re rude, arrogant and anti-social. They think if you just tried a bit harder you’d really love going to parties and engaging in hours of directionless conversation. They feel sorry for the way you isolate yourself. There’s clearly something wrong with you. Do you hate people? How could you be happy by yourself? Don’t you get bored just sitting in your room reading? Where’s the excitement?
Well this may come as a shock to most extroverts, but we introverts are just not that impressed with you. We also carry our own stereotypes. Your constant need for interaction and social validation comes across as shallow, desperate and needy. Your preference for small talk and your impatience with complex thoughts and feelings makes you look a bit dumb. Don’t you have any in depth opinions about anything? Do you ever reflect? Can’t you focus for two seconds and take a subject to its logical conclusion rather than just bailing as soon as it gets hard? Do actually have any close friends that you share a deep bond with or is everyone just interchangeable. Do you even care who you hang out with or will any warm body do? Do you have any standards at all?
Growing up that was my impression. Extroverts were like little puppies; spastic, needy, directionless and socially indiscriminate.
I know better now, but when you see someone constantly seeking social interaction and validation, when you see them just blab on and on about nothing, when you see them get bored when the conversation becomes more in depth and reflective in nature, it’s easy to dismiss an extrovert as being somewhat of an idiot.
Of course, they’re not idiots, it can just seem that way to an introvert. Especially when you’re young, reactionary and trapped in school.
Fortunately as you get older, you get wiser. You also have more control over your life. You tend to move away from the irritants and gravitate towards what makes you happy. So rather than slamming into each other and driving each other crazy, introverts and extroverts start socializing with each other.
Which brings me to my family.
My partner is introverted and shy but has good social skills. I am introverted but completely uninhibited and somewhat klutzy socially. My daughter is most definitely introverted and so far she she’s shy as well. Socially, unfortunately, she also seems to be a bit klutzy like her dad. I say unfortunately because accidentally offending people or confusing them by not reading or honoring social cues well is not an advantage in life. Fortunately, they are learnable through example and practice.
However, introversion is a character trait. You don’t grow out of it. It may lesson or increase overtime, but the basic predisposition will remain. It’s also unrelated to shyness, which often lessens through life. Introversion doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll also be shy. You can be both introverted and unabashedly confident. A confident introvert simply doesn’t care what you think about them, has no problem taking the lead when they feel it’s necessary, and is self-assured when dealing with other people. They just don’t require a high degree of social interaction to be happy like an extrovert.
It’s also true that you can be shy and extroverted. Shy extroverts want to be around groups and are drawn to social situations but their lack of social confidence keeps them in the background. They may go to all the parties, be on the cheerleading squad, and join all the sports teams, but they won’t be the first to raise their hand or speak up. A shy extrovert can be counted on the be a great team player, they just won’t be taking the lead.
Fortunately for those that are shy, you have the ability to gain social confidence through exposure and repetition if you choose. However, your basic introverted or extroverted nature will still be there. It’s just how you are.
The easiest way to understand introversion is that an introvert gains energy from being alone, while an extrovert gains energy from being around others.
So while grounding an extrovert is an effective punishment, grounding an introvert is almost pointless. They like being alone. Extroverts are drained by isolation, introverts are drained by socialization.
So one thing you can count on in our house is that we all need our down time. And that means alone time. Down time with others doesn’t count because being with others is draining. It takes work. So some of the happiest times in our house is when my partner’s in her room reading, I’m in my office on my computer, and my daughter is in the living room deep in her fantasy play with all her toys. We’re just fine not being with each other for a couple of hours. If our house wasn’t so small and our daughter so young, I’m sure we’d stay away from each other even more.
Now the differences between introverts and extroverts would be fine except for the fact that the world is at least 70% extrovert oriented and they have built the world to suit themselves. Extroverts have also established their traits as the norm, or more accurately normal. I have never met a parent who worries that their child socializes too much, that they raise their hands too often in class, or that they have too many friends. It seems the more extroverted you are, the more you are rewarded and praised, even if it borders on what an introvert would consider manic or desperately needy.
However, worrying about your child’s disinterest in social activities seems to be a national past time. But it shouldn’t be. Introverts are just fine being alone and only having a few close friends. Parties aren’t particularly fun for them and team sports are not that attractive. They are not missing out on anything. It’s like trying to feed cheese to someone who doesn’t like cheese. You think they sit around going “gee I wish I liked cheese, I really feel like I’m missing out on all that great cheese”. Of course not. They don’t miss it because they don’t want it. This is how introverts feel about social situations. If they wanted to hang out with a dozen people at once, engage in mindless chit-chat for hours, or join a sports team they would.
This is not to say introverts are not social. It’s just that they take they’re socialization in little pieces and are more situationally sensitive. They prefer one on one interaction over groups. They prefer solo activities over team activities. This doesn’t mean introverts never hang out in groups or participate in team sports, it’s just that unlike extroverts, they don’t NEED to. And that’s an important distinction.
So don’t be confused or worried by my daughters behavior. She has a very rich and full life. She into surfing and horseback riding. She goes to the beach and the park weekly. She goes out to great restaurants and enjoys hanging out with a few close friends. But you won’t see any of that and she won’t tell you about it because she doesn’t know you and therefore she won’t be eager chit-chat with you. Even to her parents, her deep inner life isn’t fully visible. We watch and listen while she’s fully engaged in her fantasy play or working on her projects. This is where we get our clearest vision of what she’s thinking, because unlike an extrovert, she doesn’t wear her thoughts on her sleeve.
So I’ve put together a list of do’s and don’ts for dealing with my daughter. These are general tendencies and patterns. I don’t care if you follow them, I just want you to understand them.
1. Don’t put my daughter on the spot and expect her to perform.
This one is mainly for the teachers and other adults. Even after telling her first grade teacher that she was an introvert and shy, her teacher still misinterpreted her behavior as a deficiency in hearing, sight or language processing. She even recommended she be tested. Of course, her hearing and vision was fine. She was concerned that when she was asked a question there would be a delay in her response and that she would talk in soft monotone. When duh! We told her that. We even wrote it down in her profile. It is not a developmental problem. When she’s at home she’s a chatterbox, her tone is very expressive, and she can recite entire passages of her favorite movies complete with the correct character accents and inflections. But school is not home and she’s not entirely comfortable there and may never be.
2. Don’t throw my daughter into complex social situations and expect anything but silence and withdraw. At least at first.
To an introvert this is a no brainer. To an extroverted world an introvert ‘s natural response to social stress can be misinterpreted as aloofness or arrogance. It is neither. She simply feels uncomfortable and overwhelmed. It will take time and repetition for her to warm up to a group activity.
3. My daughter needs time to get used to you. Don’t take it personally if she doesn’t look you in the eye and get all excited when you address her.
Introverts need time to warm up to someone. Once they let you in, they can be quite the chatterbox and physically demonstrative. Until then though, don’t expect much. Averting the eyes and speaking in soft monotone is a normal introverted response to an overwhelming social situation. She is not being rude and it has nothing to do with how she feels about you personally.
4. My daughter recharges her batteries by being alone. Don’t take offense if she doesn’t want to play with your kid at the moment.
Children my daughter’s know her whole life will come over and ask if she wants to play. More often than not she’ll say no and go back to whatever she was doing. Especially if she just got home from school and needs alone time. If they say hi to her on the street she will respond with the weakest monotone hi you’ve ever heard. She may not even look at them in the eye. This has no relationship to how much my daughter likes your child. She’s introverted as well as bit shy and awkward socially. She simply doesn’t have the tools or predisposition to react the way you’d expect her to.
So give her a break. Introverts process internally while extroverts process externally. An introvert looks inward to find themselves and make sense of the world. An extrovert looks externally to accomplish the same thing. No big deal.
Here’s an Example of an Introverted Child in Action
We signed our daughter up for swim lesson when she was around three. The class was very small, perhaps 5 kids. She already knew how to swim, this was for learning more advanced skills. What did my daughter do the whole time? She completely ignores the teacher and the other students and played by herself around the perimeter of the action. But what do I see her doing the next day at the clubhouse pool? Practicing her ice cream scoop strokes! She was listening and observing the whole time, she just wasn’t going to practice it with the entire class there. She needed to wait until she was alone with me, in our own pool, for her to feel comfortable.
Unfortunately, the swim teacher will never see her progress.
Introverts are like Christmas presents. You don’t know what’s inside until you remove the wrapper. Some are just harder to unwrap than others.
That’s it for now.
This is one of the better articles on extroverts and introverts.
I enjoyed this nice post by Hunter Nuttall about being an introvert
And another good article by Brian Kim about what you should know about introverts
File Under: Tips for Dealing With Introverted Children – Introverts Versus Extroverts – Advice for Working With Introverted Students – Introverted Parenting – Shy Children – Dos and Don’ts When Working With an Introverted Child