I saw the flash of fear in his eyes. His breath exited in a forceful whoosh of anxiety. The protest in my son’s voice startled me. And my heart clinched in a way that only a mother experiences. What caused his outcry and unexpected inner turmoil? I told him he needed to take a speech class. My 16-year-old, well-composed, academically-minded homeschooler verged on a meltdown tired toddler style. He usually takes everything in stride.
Everything except speech class, evidently.
I put my arguments of the benefits of speech class aside for the moment and reflected. I was talking to my introverted son. The son who offers few complaints about anything. The son who has always shown a preference for the written word over the spoken. The son who will painstakingly write out and refine a message 20 times–if need be–to make sure he’s understood.
What is true introversion?
According to Susan Cain (author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking) says, “[I]ntroverts prefer lower-stimulation environments, that’s where they feel at their most alive”
Introvert Dear explains it this way: an introvert is “someone who prefers calm, minimally stimulating environments. Introverts tend to feel drained after socializing and regain their energy by spending time alone. This is largely because introverts’ brains respond to dopamine differently than extroverts’ brains. In other words, if you’re an introvert, you were likely born that way.”
Your child is not broken
If you have an introverted child, understand that there is nothing wrong with him or her. Like I discussed in my first article regarding helping your introverted child make friends, introverts are intelligent members of society, but they often get overlooked. After all, society celebrates the extrovert and often ignores the introvert. Society is enamored with the idea that extroverts are the only ones who know their own minds, have opinions, and are confident.
Watch a sitcom and it’s full of zany extroverts. Introverted characters don’t get screen time except to deliver a deadpan one-liner. In social settings, it’s easy to dismiss the introvert as not having much to add to the conversation. Educationally speaking, the extrovert is thought to have a better grasp on the material than someone who is reluctant vocalize her understanding of the topic.
So what’s a parent to do?
Parenthood is challenging on the best of days. Balancing personalities and everyday schedules and hobbies show a parent where their weaknesses and strengths lay. To help, here are some things to keep in mind.
Remember quietness does not equal ignorance.
Extroverts are not more engaged or intelligent than the introvert. Action is not “better” than contemplation, though the business world might argue otherwise. Quiet strength is an equally attractive quality. Including your child in activities and discussions at home is important even if it seems they have no opinion or preference. They do. The introvert has ideas, dreams, and solutions, but he or she may be reluctant to express them.
Introversion is not ‘One size fits all’
While introverts are similar to one another, they are not all the same. One child can be more or less introverted than another. A task that causes great anxiety for one child, is surmounted with less fear by another introverted child. It’s also important to note that your child might exhibit more anxiety in public than he does at home. More on that in a moment.
Encourage your child in the activities he or she finds satisfying.
We are happier and more productive when we enjoy what we are doing. There are times when it is important to strengthen familial bonds. You want your child to take part with the rest of the family. But don’t always make your child watch the movie when she’d rather be reading. Your child’s level of introversion influences his choices of extra-curricular activities. That’s okay.
Push, but only a little at a time.
There are things your child will have to do and learn to become a responsible adult. But don’t dump your child in the deep end –- this can cause great anxiety. Instead, ease them into it. This is a silly example, but it gets the point across: My youngest son hates speaking up when it’s his turn to order at a restaurant. I make him do it anyway. A few times, I’ve even asked him to relay to the server what all four of our family members want. He doesn’t like it. Yet, it pushes him to speak up in an environment that doesn’t have much repercussion if he doesn’t do it “perfectly.” And it gives him a boost when he comes out of it unscathed on the other side. Practicing life skills of this type helps to give confidence to try other activities outside of his comfort zone.
Help your child by helping his or her teacher.
At the beginning of the year, clue the teacher in on the fact that your child is an introvert. It can only help. The teacher will discuss your child’s participation during conference time. Ask the teacher if your child uses eye contact to show engagement. Do his or her writing assignments show insight and understanding? Does your child take an active role in small groups or one-on-one activities? Is the teacher willing to accept alternative activities (like a brief written synopsis or a drawing) instead of speaking up in class? These valid ways of participating should be considered when grades come due.
Remember that productivity and creativity are often a solo endeavors.
Sure, group brainstorming has its place. However, it’s not the only way to inspire creativity. Individualized activities are productive, creative, and encourage outside the box thinking also.
No doubt, you’ve guessed that I did not make my son take the speech class. My reasoning for him taking the class in the first place was solid. But in the end, I decided that it wasn’t important enough to force him to do something that was so far out of his comfort zone that it would cause great anxiety (for both of us). His desired career does not include public speaking. Had the issue been that he was “nervous,” or if he needed it to excel in his field of study, I would’ve made him take the class. I do seek out other ways to make small in-roads out of his comfort zone. And rarely are those times met with the tired toddler tantrum look on his face!
What ways have you encouraged your introverted child to grow? Leave a comment so we can continue the discussion!