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Do You Have An Introvert Child?

introvert childThis week I’ve been reading a book which explores the characteristics of introverts versus extroverts. I know which I am (only an introvert would buy a book with a title like ‘Quiet’). I remember at infant school once, when the teacher asked a child to choose between two books to read, I knew that inevitably the child would choose ‘Janet and John go to the Circus’ while I was really hoping for ‘Janet and John Stay at Home’. (Or was it Topsy and Tim?)

I know that when parents express worries about their children to me, it often seems to be ‘introvert’ concerns – children who don’t fit in, who ‘get excluded’ from the social group, children who are ‘clingy’ or shy. Either that, or children who blow up, have tantrums, make a big fuss, scream and cry at the slightest thing. The interesting thing I have learned from this book is that these may be introvert characteristics too. This is because introverts tend to be more sensitive, so these ‘highly reactive’ children may just be less able to tolerate outside stimulation or change. The skin of introverts is literally thinner! So the quiet calm placid baby, who is more able to tolerate the stimulations of the world around her, may actually be the extrovert.

It can be hard to be the parent of an introvert child when in today’s culture the most important quality we are supposed to nurture in our children is ‘high self-esteem’. If our child does not demonstrate this quality with a big extrovert personality, will we be judged as bad parents? Personally I go from high to low self-esteem depending on the situation, and in fact it’s when I feel less confident that I grow the most, as I’m forced to dig deep. I would like to advocate a tolerance of our children’s low self-esteem moments, they have their own gifts.

And I would like to speak out in defense of introvert children everywhere. They tend to be reflective thinkers; they are not unsociable, they just have a greater need to be alone and their sensitivity gives them great empathy. All great stuff. When I look back at my own childhood, I know that I sometimes felt excluded from the social group at school, and I did want to find a way in, but if I’m really honest I know I also put myself on the outside. I felt more relaxed with just one good friend. We all need a social group, but we can’t all have the same position within it, some need to be in the centre and some need to dip in and out. And wherever we feel most comfortable in the group is ok. The introvert child is not a problem.

Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking  Susan Cain

3 Responses

  1. Sarah Thomas
    | Reply

    Hi Stephanie,
    I’m so enjoying your blog – particularly because we seem to be so in synch right now (perhaps that’s why we keep bumping it not each other in the supermarket!). I now have two questions I’d like to pose based on two of your posts I’ve found most thought provoking.

    1) When faced with ‘angry children’ I often find myself staying cool and calm in the moment but sometime after the event, usually when faced with a minor irritation such as procrastination at bedtime, I find myself blowing up disproportionately and having a tantrum of my own. I guess its a response to feeling that my own boundaries have been crossed by being subject to the anger and aggression of my children. My question is how can we be sure that we’re really displaying ‘the strength of the oak tree’, and not just suppressing our own feelings and responses? I get that as an adult I have a far greater capacity to (and responsibility to) regulate my emotions but if I do wonder whether I need an outlet for my own feelings of being badly treated so don’t throw it all back at my children later.

    2) I’ve just watched Susan Cain’s TED talk because someone actually took the time to call me up and tell me about her book (what does that say about me, I wonder!). It was great to hear her ideas and I resonated with a lot of what she said. One of three things she stated emphatically in her final call for action was ‘Stop this madness for constant team work – just stop it!’. This has interesting ramifications for the introverted child in a classroom that values collaborative working and learning through dialogue and conversation. It makes me wonder, as an introverted parent, whether this mode of working would really have suited me. Perhaps, just as we shift on a scale of high to low self esteem, we shift on a scale of introversion to extroversion. I wonder whether our schools ought to accommodate this shift.

    • Stephanie Davies-Arai
      | Reply

      Thanks for your comment Sarah. Hmm… I know so well what you mean about feelings popping up later (and just when you thought you’d done so well!!) And I think you’re right, it’s the difference between repressing and managing our feelings. I think the oak tree is managing, not suppressing! Here’s what I think happens: over our lifetimes we develop an automatic response to the things that really shock, upset or offend us, our brains run on ‘default’, which is brilliant, we don’t even have to think about it, and this function of our brains has probably ensured our survival. What we need to do to become more mindful (ie conscious managing rather than unconscious denial/suppression) is switch our brains to ‘manual’. Do this enough times and you reset your default! This means being really aware of ‘triggers’ and the physical warning signs you get (tight throat? sick in your stomach..?) When you recognise these signs (however slight) it helps to name your feelings for yourself (and exaggerate even, really feel the indignance!) and then say thank you very much for letting me know, and put them aside. This may sound really childish, but I like to turn away from my child and do a ‘silent scream’ or pull a hugely shocked and disapproving face before turning back. This acknowledges ME, and also amuses me. I have been known to turn away and explain to my child that I’m just going to roar like a lion for a minute. (which generally ends up with us both collapsed in giggles) Don’t really do that anymore though…

      On your second point, I agree absolutely, and could talk forever on this, but perhaps I’ll save that for another blog. I’ll just say here that I think every classroom should have the space for solitary time to reflect and process, and that a balance of both is useful for all children – I don’t think Either/Or solutions are ever ideal. The truth, rather boringly, always seems to lie somewhere in the middle. I have to admit that I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if I hadn’t been to some extent pushed and forced to get over myself!!

      • Sarah Thomas
        | Reply

        I can just picture your hugely shocked and disapproving face before you turn back and continue calmly!! I have to try that one for myself…
        Thanks so much for the response,
        Sarah x

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