How one mom nurtures the introvert in a family of extroverts
I wouldn’t call myself an extrovert in that I don’t fit that classic definition. I have always needed alone time to recharge, collect myself, and feel whole. But I would call myself a very social introvert; and what’s more, I married a true extrovert. My husband feeds off the energy of other people. We’re busy, we’re nomadic, we like to put ourselves out there.
So it came as no surprise when our first daughter was born that she loved people, even as a baby. As she grew, she wanted to be in the throes of action, always on-the-go. Now she’s in school, and even a full day of friends and learning is barely enough to satiate her craving. When it comes to parenting an extrovert, every day I remind myself to let go, and let my daughter be this big personality that she is.
When our second daughter came along, I knew from the womb that she would be different. As a baby, she was interested in few but me, and she was her happiest in those quiet moments, just me rocking her. It was easy to identify her more quiet, observant nature; and honestly, it was good for me to be in touch with that part of myself again. It was a bond we shared, craving solitude. Still, as she grew older, I also found it a bit trickier to parent her. And I realized, I was harder on her in some respects, maybe because as a socially-inclined introvert, I’m hard on myself.
In our family, we like to celebrate all of the unique parts that make us a whole. And where that meant creating space for our oldest to be herself, it means doing the same for our youngest to be different than her sister. Here are a few of the things we try to remember when parenting our introvert.
1. Teach alone time. As an adult, I’ve learned to recognize when I’m emotionally exhausted and need to retreat a bit. But most children don’t come by this naturally -- the true purveyors of FOMO. When I notice my daughter becoming weary (and different kids manifest this differently), I try to encourage her to take some alone time before it escalates into a fit. This could be interesting her in a specific, focused task or having her sit on her bed with a few books and some coloring.
2. Leave room for the feelings. Kids are emotional, and I sense this particularly raising young girls. And all kids, introverted or extroverted, need to be guided in curbing these emotions in a socially acceptable way. But for an introverted kid, the lack of this skill can be even more upsetting. I work closely with my daughter on calming techniques or encouraging her to take some space to figure out the proper way to say what she’s feeling. You can teach communication without belittling the emotion.
3. Look for outlets. A lot of times, introverts are naturally creative. Because energy comes from being alone, specific hobbies are great for cultivating and expressing that energy. It’s a skill an introvert will need into adulthood, and so it’s great to help your child explore all sorts of interests that also benefit their social and emotional needs. My daughter loves playing with clay or Play-doh, which is perfect for exploring imaginary themes through tangible, tactile means.
4. Push when you can. Being introverted or “shy” can’t be a crutch in adulthood, and it’s good to begin teaching this lesson early. When your child has you rooting for them, they can be braver. Sometimes it is hard to push your kid socially, but they will benefit from your nudge. We encourage our daughter to practice speaking to grown-ups in safe settings, like asking the librarian for a certain book or answering conversational questions with her teacher at the start of school.
5. Remember they are their own person. This is a big lesson for me, considering myself an introvert. I want to be hard on my daughter for all the right reasons, but in the end, it’s like parenting myself if I approach it that way. Our kids are their own little people, and they will find their way. In that sense, setting up goals and boundaries, and then stepping back to let them be is the best approach. They can come into their own the most fully when they do it themselves.