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Parenting blog

A blog for parents with effective techniques based on developmental psychology. 

Understanding your Introverted Child

Sara Zaidi

Introverted children are often misunderstood, even by their parents, who worry about them. Content with just one or two close friends, they may be perceived as unpopular; easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation, they may seem unmotivated. 

In reality, however, introverted children often have a high EQ. They are dependable, persistent, and lack vanity. They are creative problem solvers and they love to learn. They tend to have powerful skills of concentration and prefer immersing themselves in one task at a time. They may be socially adept but quickly tire of parties or groups. Their social energy is limited, and they use it very carefully. 

A biologically based model explains the behaviors of introverts and extroverts and how their brains operate differently. Introverts have naturally high cortical arousal (the speed and amount of the brain’s activity), and process more information in a short span of time. Thus they become overwhelmed and tend to shut down to stop this influx of information when exposed to an environment with a lot of stimulation, like a loud restaurant. Extroverts, on the other hand, are only minimally aroused, so they seek out highly stimulating environments to augment their arousal levels. Since introverts’ and extroverts’ brains are “wired” differently, it may make introverts more cautious and reserved than their peers. It may be harder for them to adjust to new environments or feel comfortable in large crowds.

There are a few things parents can do to help their child in such situations. For example, arrive earlier to an event to allow them to become comfortable in the space, or have them stand back from the action at a comfortable distance and simply watch for a few minutes. Quietly observing will help them process things. Whatever new experience you’re getting them accustomed to, take small steps toward it rather than avoiding it completely.  

While extroverts feel energized by socializing, introverts can feel drained. Remind your child that they can take breaks from socializing if they feel overwhelmed or tired by going to a quieter part of the room.  Older children are able to recognize the signs of fatigue but you may have to watch out for your younger ones. 

Help them understand that the feeling of nervousness may stem from not knowing the outcome of something. Provide positive reinforcement when they take a risk or do something they were initially apprehensive about. Once they recognize this feeling, and with encouragement, they will learn how to self-regulate the feelings of dread. 

Allow for opportunities to pursue their interests.  Such engagement can provide fulfillment, build confidence and give your child opportunities to socialize with other children. 

Teach them to be assertive. Practice with them at home and model behavior. Ask questions gently to help them think out loud, but without interrogation, so they don’t get lost in their own thoughts. Reflect back what they say to let them know that they have been heard. 

Speak to their teacher and tell them about your child's temperament. Sometimes their lack of participation is construed as being uninterested or distracted. On the contrary, introverted students can be quite attentive in class, but they often prefer to listen and observe rather than actively participate.

Perhaps most importantly, avoid labeling them “shy”. They will begin to believe that it and accept it as who they are. The goal is draw them out, not push them further in.