“Stay away from me! I was not made to be around people!”
Those were actual words that came from our six-year old’s mouth as his cousins played with him one afternoon. Upon hearing him say that I teetered between wanting to sternly yell, “Oh, no, no, no, we don’t talk to people that way!” and feeling pride that someone so young knows something so important about himself.
Our son is an introvert, and while he does actually enjoy the company of others, it needs to be in small doses. Learning to love and respect him is an art for us as his family, despite the fact that I myself am an introvert through and through.
So, why is it so hard to know how to raise an introvert if you are one? Because introverts are easily misunderstood, even by each other.
Especially if one of them is a child.
As a lifelong introvert and a woman married to an extrovert, our family has what I’d consider a well-educated journey of discovering how to function as a happy family together. We read, we talk, we research- we do whatever we can to make sure we can hone in on each others’ needs in a respectful way. Especially so we can understand the other and feel understood because this part of who we are drives so much of our lives. So, with that, I’d love to share a little of what we’ve found to work in our family as we learn to respectfully raise the little boy who “just wasn’t made to be around people!”
1. Determine if your child is an introvert
It wasn’t until my husband and I finally came to the realization that our son is an introvert that we could really learn to help him function at his best. If you’re not sure how to tell if your little one is an introvert or extrovert, try this little test. Watch them enter a new group of kids. Do they scope out the situation before interacting with others, maybe finding a quiet activity to do alone before joining the rest of the group? Or do they immediately go up and start talking and playing with other children? You can probably guess which is which. Introverts aren’t necessarily shy, they just need more time to find their place in a new crowd.
2. Help your child identify their needs
One day I decided to see if my son could identify himself as introvert or extrovert. I explained both of these types as well as the fact that some people are a combination of the two. After explaining I asked him which one seemed like him. He thought quietly for a bit and then replied, “I am the one that requires the minimum amount of time with other people.” Welcome to the club kiddo. I was proud of him for recognizing this part of himself (his dad and I have known this a bit longer). Most people don’t learn this until they are adults, but navigating this part of ourselves should be something we help our little ones learn when the time seems right. Since learning this about himself, our son can help us know when he feels all “peopled out,” which is typically a big contributing factor to his nighttime meltdowns and difficult days. A quiet afternoon at home always remedies this!
3. Give your child coping skills for busy “people times”
All introverts need an “out plan” for busy people situations and our children are no exception. For me it’s usually the food table at a party or a quick trip to check my phone in the bathroom. If I don’t have an out, then I’m less present when I’m around others. As a family we like to spend time with others, but we need our son to know that it’s OK if he needs a quiet place to go for a bit. It may be as simple as snuggling up on our lap, but since he’s gotten a bit older, I may allow him to watch a short show on my phone to decompress for a few minutes in another room. This little break can go a long way and build his stamina to stay around us later. Also, teaching him to use his words when he feels overwhelmed by people time is another important tool for his introvert toolbox.
4. Respect your child when they communicate their needs
Once your little one learns to speak up for their needs, they are counting on us to respect that. We need to learn to respect them when they say, “I need a little a space.” In our family we’ve even allowed our son to constitute a no talking on the way home from school rule because he’s just been around people too long during the day. By respecting him in these moments he comes to us more presently later and he learns to trust us. Have you ever thought about how adults need breaks during the day when we are at work or how we need a quiet car ride to just listen to music after a long day? Our kids may be the same and are counting on us to respect this part of them.
5. Learn to say no to back-to-back planning
Our family has learned to not make too many plans in a row so both my son and I can be more present for situations where we are required to be around others. It’s OK if my husband, the extrovert, goes to everything, but my son and I may need to stay home from that extra cookout or gathering that friends planned over the weekend, despite the fact that we do love seeing everyone. As a general rule of thumb, we usually keep weekend plans to one event a day and if we really need to do more than that with other people, we make sure there’s a good break at home in the middle of the two. We have learned that sometimes the best thing for our son is his preferred activity: to stay home and quietly play by himself for a couple of hours. And on a hard night when he has a meltdown and tells me he’s “just feeling weird,” I look back on the day and can tell it was way too packed with people time. Chances are I am feeling it too!
6. Be an advocate for your child
Though we try to teach our son coping skills for busy people times, there are times when our son will let the world know loud and clear that he just doesn’t want to be by anyone. It doesn’t always come across as kind and respectful, and that can create some awkward social situations as a family. But our son is normal and healthy and learning to navigate this part of his identity. Introvert children can easily be misunderstood by others and we are here to help him work through those situations. Sometimes we need to talk to others with him, or even for him, and help them understand he’s not trying to be rude. As he gets older he will be better at working through those situations, but for now it’s OK to need a little support. That’s what we’re here for.
Learning this about our son has been a game changer. Giving him a childhood that helps him maintain a peaceful little introvert heart and confident identity is very important to us as a family. Do you have any introverts in your family? Our family would love to know what works for yours!