This 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.