I am undecided about the word/term/characterisation called “introvert”. On one hand, I identify and agree with its definitions and connotations, while on the other hand I seem to get somewhat defensive when I am labelled as such. The term ‘introvert’ was coined by the psychologist Carl Jung to describe a person who becomes emotionally and physically worn out from being around people a long time. Now, anyone who knows me will tell you that that definition is the personification of who I am. It is so uncanny,it’s a bit scary. Ever since I was a child, I was always the party-pooper who whined about going home 30 minutes after arriving at a party or a family friend’s house while my siblings were busy tearing up the dance floor or making friends. I am usually quiet and observant whenever I am out of my home, but I absorb a lot! I think it’s the negative connotation that comes with being an introvert that actually bothers me. As an adult, labels don’t do any damage to my confidence or my beliefs. I know who I am and I am comfortable in my own skin. What worries me is the fact that I might have a budding introvert on my hands and I want to do my absolute best to support and nurture that in my child. I did some research and this is what I came away with.
I might have completed my journey towards self-understanding and confidence, but as a child, labels such as ‘shy’ ‘quiet’ ‘unfriendly’ or ‘boring’ are more likely to do unintended damage. One of the many disadvantages of being an “introvert” is the problem of being misunderstood and underestimated. It is quite common for educators to underestimate an introvert child because he/she clammed up during an interview or assessment.They might even be seen as less intelligent. it is important for educators to understand that introverts sometimes learn new ideas differently. Instead of learning through the usual trial and error method that other children use, introverts may learn by rehearsing new skills in their own heads without joining in the activity with other children.
It is also important to understand that introverted children are not “shy”. Shyness has been described by psychologists as “being more anxious than usual in social situations”*
So while an introvert might hide behind mum in a new situation, she’s not typically doing it because she’s socially fearful. She might be protecting herself from being physically overwhelmed. Culturally, extroverts are usually more liked and preferred. We respect and value quick-talking, oratory and dramatics. Most elected leaders have to be flamboyant and charismatic orators.
Even in workplace politics, the loudest voice gets the most attention. Personally, I have been denied a job offer because during the interview I came across as too calm, meek and laid-back. (code for boring and undramatic). One of the interviewers told me that I looked good on paper and I had the right credentials bla bla bla, but the other person felt I was too introverted.
All this bad press can make a parent panic and go into overreaction mode. This can make you push your child to doing things that they don’t enjoy and inadvertently cause more harm than good. If you,like me have an introvert on your hands, here are some tips for nurturing that beautiful child.
- Don’t force friends that they don’t like on them: Because of their quiet and observant nature, introverted kids are often well liked and popular even though they don’t seek out friendships. But, they will most likely pick a few close friends instead of the whole squad. Respect their choice and don’t worry about the number; focus on the quality and positivity of that relationship.
- Don’t overstimulate: It is very easy to want to expose your introvert to lots of different activities and situations in order to enrich their life experiences. Pace yourself and give them the opportunity to process and/or understand the activity before you move them to the next one.
- Respect their privacy: Understand and accept that we all don’t have to do everything together. It is usually comforting for introverts to have some time to themselves especially if they are surrounded by extroverted siblings.
- Prepare their teachers and carers: Teachers generally welcome insights into their students’ behavioural tendencies so it helps to tell your child’s teacher that they might take some time before they warm up to the whole class. This means that the teacher is less likely to put a child on the spot if they know he/she feels uncomfortable in the spotlight.
- Teach them to understand and celebrate their own temperament: Validate their feelings and show them that they are not alone or weird. Show them their strengths and how their temperament makes them unique.
I got a lot of insight into myself during the course of this research, but most of what I have written in this post was gotten from a Parenting Magazine called Parents.com. There is a wealth of information there and I encourage parents and aspiring parents to visit the site.
Remember that Introversion is a very deep and valuable character trait that tends to stay with an individual for life while shyness is a behaviour that diminishes as children grow.
*- abridged from Parents.com