The Care and Feeding of Introverted Children

According to Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, about one-quarter to one-third of the population are introverts. Most psychologists believe that personality traits such as introversion/extroversion begin to take hold in very early childhood, so if you have children, there’s a substantial chance that one or more of them may be an introvert.

We live in a society primarily geared toward extroverts, even in childhood. We send children to preschool in the hopes that they will learn to socialize well. Our elementary school classrooms arrange students in tables and desk clusters of four or more, and encourage team activities and group projects. As they move into adolescence, classroom discussion and study groups are the norm for much of middle school and high school. Even college and post-graduate education in our society leans heavily on the concept that the ideal student is the brash, outgoing, hand-shaking class leader. Cain makes all of these points very well in her book

While an extroverted child will flourish under these conditions, introverts need to be handled differently. An introverted child is likely to enjoy a few special close friendships rather than a large noisy group of children. They may be exceptionally close to their parents and their siblings and prefer to be at home with their families in the evenings and on the weekends. They may enjoy activities such as big-group birthday parties and slumber parties but need time to prepare for them and time afterward to recover from so much social stimulation. In the school setting, they do their best work on their own, and may fade into the background when group projects and heated discussion take over. They may communicate more eloquently in writing, such as essays, webpages, or email, than they are able to do in person. They are often compassionate in their friendships; the ‘A’ student who spends her extra time helping out the slow learner in her class (rather than trying to join the crowd surrounding the popular children) is likely to be an introvert.

I’d strongly recommend Cain’s book to anyone who either is raising a suspected introvert or who works with children in general. But whether you read it or not, take time to understand the introverts in your life. Allow your introverted child the solitude that he needs in order to feel relaxed and happy. Help her find and cultivate the deep, satisfying, long-lasting friendships that introverts crave. And keep an eye on the educational process at your child’s school. Does your introverted child get enough opportunities to do his own work (and receive praise and credit for it), or is a high percentage of his grade based on group activities? Are the students allowed some choices, some leeway, such as the choice between writing essays and presenting in front of the class? Does your child’s teacher take time to ask your quiet introvert what she thinks about a given topic, and facilitate group discussions to keep them from always being dominated by the same players?

If you do find that you are raising an introvert, and have questions about how best to assist your child in navigating the perils and pitfalls of an introverted childhood while finding the advantages and rewards of this personality trait, talk to us at your child’s checkup. You might be surprised how many health care providers are introverts!