Parenting the Introverted Child

by Milan & Kay Yerkovich

At our parenting conferences, we often ask the question: "How many of you who are introverts felt known, understood and accepted by your parents when you were growing up?" Sadly, few of the introverts present can answer "yes" to that question. This should be a wake-up call to all parents who have an introverted child.

Why do so few introverts feel understood by their parents? And, perhaps more important, what does introversion really mean?
Introversion describes a number of common temperament preferences — primarily, how a person processes information and "refuels" in life. The word shy is often used to describe an introvert, although that’s not completely accurate. In her book The Introvert Advantage, Marti Laney makes an important distinction between introversion and shyness:

Introversion is a healthy capacity to tune into your inner world. It is a constructive and creative quality. . . . Introverts have social skills; they like people, and they enjoy some types of socializing. However, party chitchat depletes their energy while giving them little in return. Shyness is social anxiety, an extreme self-consciousness when one is around people. . . . It is not an issue of energy; it is a lack of confidence in social situations.

Introverts commonly:

  • feel drained from a lot of interaction; prefer a few close friends and sometimes feel lonely and over-stimulated in a crowd; gain energy from private time and need space to be alone.
  • have a strong internal processing preference and verbalize only necessary information; gain insight and come to conclusions independently; listen and observe more than talk and participate.
  • enjoy meaningful, in-depth conversations about internal feelings and experiences with carefully chosen people, are less likely than extroverts to share their feelings and reactions with casual acquaintances.

Temperament researchers estimate only 25 percent to 30 percent of the general population is introverted, so often there's only one introvert in a family of extroverts. Since extroverts outnumber introverts, introverts often feel there’s something wrong with them, and "if they were normal," they would be more social.

If your child is an introvert, you can use these practical strategies to help your child thrive:

Don't overschedule. Introverted children need time to recharge, and too many activities are overwhelming. School is more taxing for an introvert, and she often desires alone time, not more activity after school.

Allow transition time. Some extroverted parents may get frustrated with an introverted child who is reluctant to join the fun at a birthday party or other social settings. To help that, you might say to him: "Some kids like to go play right away. You might prefer to watch what the kids are doing and decide who you want to play with. I'll stand with you while you watch and check things out."

Don’t let the extroverts in your family talk over the introvert. Teach extroverted family members to wait respectfully for the introvert to process what she wants to say. Include the introvert in the conversation by directly asking for her opinion.

Reconnect often. Make it a goal to have at least one in-depth conversation with your introverted child every week. Be sensitive to the timing, and avoid noisy, distracting locations. Bedtime is often a good time. Learn to ask questions to draw out the child. He may not elaborate unless you ask for more information. Pick a subject of interest to your child, and find out what he thinks. Many times he has a fantasy world he doesn't discuss unless you ask. Ask a question and then wait for him to process his answer.

Give space. If your introverted child shares a bedroom with a sibling, give your introverted child a private spot in the house she can go to when she wants to be alone. Teach your extroverted kids to respect their sibling’s need for space and alone time.

Encourage. Write notes to your introverted child about his strengths and positive attributes. While all children like this, introverts especially appreciate written words and often reread notes or cards in quiet moments.

Adapt. Plan birthdays that suit your introverted child. Large parties in noisy places are often not enjoyable to an introvert. Take time to get to know your introverted child. Her gifts of understanding, insight and observation are marvelous.

Adapted from How We Love Our Kids: The 5 Love Styles of Parenting. Copyright © 2011 by Milan & Kay Yerkovich. Used by permission of Waterbrook Press.


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