Last week was a difficult week. And by difficult, I mean the kind of week where I would have sold my child to the highest bidder had someone been crazy enough to make me an offer. She was crabby, moody and sick.  Non-stop tantrums and altogether disagreeable. It wasn’t just around her family. My girl was acting up at school too.

I had several conversations with her preschool teacher to help figure out her recent nutty behavior. During one of these conversations, her teacher told me that my girl does best when she’s left to play by herself; that she is very content being alone. So much so that she will leave an activity if another child comes over to join her (if she doesn’t scream at them to go away first). The teacher described the group of boys in the class as a tight-knit group of rambunctious boys and the girls as a group of outgoing, energetic fashionistas; girly girls who love to pose and show off their glittery outfits. And then there’s Zoey. She doesn’t fit into either of these groups. She wasn’t describing a problem, per se, just a difference. It sounded to me like she was describing an introvert.

Am I blind? How have I known this child for almost 5 years and not realized that she was an introvert? If you know me, then you have to laugh at that. My kid? An introvert? I’m one of the most extroverted people on the planet. It makes sense, though. She often will say that she prefers to stay at home and play. When I ask her who her friends are at school, her answer is usually along the lines of “Nobody.” I’ve always known that it takes her a little while to warm up to people. But then I figured she was fine. But was she, really? Now I have a whole new way to consider parenting her — a way that is the total opposite of my extroverted instincts. What is a mother to do? Turn to the internet of course!

This kid is an introvert? Photo credit: K. Stevenson

This kid is an introvert? Ask her friends.
Photo credit: K. Stevenson

Here are a few things I’ve learned that I’m keeping in mind when it comes to my girl:

  • Introverts can get overwhelmed with too much stimulation and prefers quiet, solitary activities. She needs downtime to recharge. I’ll try not to over schedule her and try to balance the introverted activities—like playing with Barbie Dolls—with the extraverted activities—like play dates with her friend Josh. No characteristic is absolute; both sides are good to have, so it’s about finding the right mix.
  • Accept her for what she is and what she likes. She really does like playing by herself; she enjoys her own company. That’s a good quality in an only child! I have to remember not to push her to be more outgoing by forcing her into group activities or team sports. (Hello? Dance class? Oops.) When she is involved in activities with lots of other kids, I need to give her time to ease into them. Instead of just dropping her on the dance floor and saying “Go!” She would benefit from time to get used to the noise and the group before joining. (Aha moment!)
  • Realize that introversion and shyness are not the same things. Neither does being introverted mean being friendless. (Phew!) Introverts usually pick a few close friends instead of befriending the whole class. This is evident in our lives now as we’re gearing up for her birthday party. Most days, she doesn’t want anyone from preschool to come to her party, or is very…selective picky as to who she thinks should come. But she always wants her friend Josh there. They’ve known each other since birth, but now attend different preschools and don’t see each other every day. That’s good enough for her.
  • Highlight the benefits of being an introvert. She’s a great problem solver and comes up with the best ideas. She loves to do creative, artsy activities and is good at them. Take the opportunity to praise her for ability to play independently, to be creative and think things through.
  • As she gets older, take advantage of her introversion and my extroversion. Use it as way to talk about differences! Let’s face it; she’s going to need to understand me too. (Mommy, why are you talking to that lady at the grocery store?)

I know this made me feel better and I hope it helps you too. Let me know your thoughts on raising introverted children. Many people have suggested Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I’ve put it on my list to read when I get a chance, you know, as soon as I stop talking.

Here are some of the blogs and articles that helped me:

Raising an Introvert When You’re an Extrovert

Raising an Introvert in and Extrovert World

5 Things to Know About Raising Introverted Children