Living With Your Introverted Child

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Most parents want their child to be outgoing and carefree and will often struggle if the child is anything but. Even if the son or daughter seems perfectly well-adjusted, the fact that he or she is quiet and prefers to spend time alone can drive some parents to the point of distress.

The question is why? The simple fact is that some children are inherently introverted. It's a characteristic that many people seem uncomfortable with, misconstruing it as a personality flaw by which a person is seen to be anti-social, troubled, or even arrogant.

In dealing with their own anxieties, parents will often force an introverted child to interact with others in a way that is neither natural nor comfortable. If the outcome is not great, it only serves to confirm to the parent that something is wrong when, in fact, the only thing that may be askew is the parent's expectation.

Understanding Introversion

Introversion is a personality trait in which a person is neither assertive nor enthusiastic in highly stimulative social situations. While some people believe it to be choice or an attitude, introversion is simply a foundation from which your child sees the world most clearly.

While some children thrive socially and are emotionally energized by group interactions, introverts experience the opposite reaction. For an introvert, gamely keeping up with the clatter of social interactions can not only be disheartening but draining. Moreover, failing to live up to the expectations of others may only serve to undermine the confidence and self-awareness that the child may likely already have.

The mistake that most people make is in thinking that introversion is the same thing as loneliness or shyness or that an introvert is inherently asocial. In fact, one of the characteristics of introversion is the ability to be more sensitive to social cues and meanings. Introverts are typically more empathic and interpersonally connected than their more socially dynamic counterparts. The only difference is that they tend to do so within an intimate relationship and are less able to conform to the demands of a group dynamic.

This is not to suggest that all introverts are the same or that some don't yearn to be more extroverted. Keenly aware of how others interact, an introverted child will often take steps to move outside of his or her comfort zone, usually by middle school or high school.

It is not always the case, however, and some introverts are more than happy to maintain smaller social circles and quieter pursuits for the rest of their life.

Living With an Introverted Child

As a parent, the greatest gift you can give to an introverted child is acceptance. While you need to encourage exercise, physical activity, and healthy interactions, it's just as important to identify where your child experiences the greatest emotional growth and gets the greatest intellectual stimulation.

If you give your child the room to make choices—including if and when to broaden social horizons—he or she will feel less penalized for falling short of your or anyone else's expectations.

It is also important that you see the benefits and gifts of living with an introverted child:

  • An introverted child may not exhibit the unbridled enthusiasm of other kids, but their restraint usually allows them to make more thoughtful and informed choices.
  • Introverted children tend to be less swayed by peer pressure and are usually avoided by those who might otherwise influence them.
  • As most introverted children prefer interacting with family or close friends, they will most likely to turn to you for support if needed.
  • While society tends to reward people for their assertiveness and even brashness, introverts tend to have more focus and are less likely to be diverted by trends, social media, or the loudest opinion in the room.

In the end, ask yourself if your introverted child is happy and well adjusted. If the answer is "yes," try to step back and let go of any unnecessary anxieties or expectations.

Ultimately, introversion is not the same thing as social anxiety disorder or avoidant personality disorder. It is simply a facet of who your child is and a personality trait shared by some of the most well-adjusted introverts in history from Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein to Bill Gates and J.K. Rowling.

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By Carol Bainbridge
Carol Bainbridge has provided advice to parents of gifted children for decades, and was a member of the Indiana Association for the Gifted.