It’s not easy to be an introverted child in a world of extroverts. We interviewed Christine Fonseca, educational psychologist and author of Quiet Kids: Help Your Child Succeed in an Extroverted World, to learn more about introverted kids. We learned that these children are often misunderstood and their special talents overlooked – but there are lots of things parents can do to help.
JNJ Parents: What are some of the telltale signs of a quiet or introverted child? Are all shy children introverted, and are all introverted children shy?
Fonseca: In general, extroverted kids tend to thrive in social situations, needing the energy from these situations in order to renew. Introverts, on the other hand, find the energy generated in highly social situations to be draining. They require solitude in order to renew.
Some typical early signs to look for:
- Hesitation in new situations
- Appears to be “lost” inside of him or herself
- Gets grouchy when around people for too long
- Become agitated when there is a lot of sensory overload
- Most comfortable by him or herself or with 1 or 2 friends
- Needs “downtime” after school or highly social activities
- Overly “shy”
Let’s talk about shy for a moment. Yes, many children who are introverted are shy. But the words are not synonyms. Shy refers to a behavior in which a person tends to withdraw from social situations. A person can learn to be less shy because shyness has nothing to do with temperament (our hard wiring) or introversion.
In contrast, introversion is part of our hard wiring, and refers to how a person interacts with the world and processes energy. Introverts do tend to be more reserved than their extroverted counterparts, but they are not always shy.
I am a perfect example of this. As a child, I was painfully shy, often refusing to participate in social activities, yet I loved to perform. I learned to be comfortable on stage and overcame my shyness. I was also an introvert as a child because I needed solitude. As an adult, I continue to need it. While I’ve overcome shyness, I am still an introvert.
JNJ Parents: Talk about the key strengths of introverted children and how parents can nurture them.
Fonseca: Introverts have several positive qualities. They are deep thinkers, typically creative, and focused on building deep relationships with people and interest areas. As parents, we can help our introverts thrive by helping them find personal space and time in which to renew. We can also encourage their deep thinking, by helping them discover their passions. Finally, we can help introverts by teaching them survival introversion skills.
JNJ Parents: Because of our cultural bias toward extroverts, introverts can face unique challenges at school and in social situations. What types of challenges commonly pop up?
Fonseca: Most of the challenges facing introverts revolve around social dynamics. These challenges can include having to participate in extensive group activities at school, social dynamics at lunch and recess leading to a significant energy drain, and increased withdrawal when placed in too many socially intense situations, ranging from school to leisure activities.
JNJ Parents: There’s a special dynamic that happens when an extroverted parent has an introverted child. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Fonseca: Sure! Extroverted parents will often find their introverted children an enigma. They won’t understand the introvert’s need to be alone. Nor will they appreciate the one or two friends the introvert has, often believing that they “should” have a larger group of friends. They may become concerned with their children become grouchy after a day at the park, or withdraw on the car ride home from school. The extroverted parent may misinterpret all of these behaviors as indicators of a mental health concern, typically an anxiety problem.
While introverted children can certainly have anxiety-related concerns, the behaviors described above are all typical for an introverted child and are not something that needs to be “fixed” – simply understood.
JNJ Parents: Your book focuses a lot on teaching introverted kids about resiliency and coping with failure. Why are these so critical?
Fonseca: There is an aspect of resiliency defined as relatedness, or the ability to build connections. This can sometimes be challenging for introverted children, especially when they are younger. Teaching these children how to connect with others, how to derive support from their parents and significant others, as well as teaching them how to bounce back after a set-back can help introverted children overcome some of the challenges of being introverted.
JNJ Parents: What are some things a parent should avoid saying to an introverted child?
Fonseca: Interesting question. I think parents should avoid using the word “shy” with introverted children, especially when using the word as a character trait as opposed to the behavior that it is.
I think it is also important to honor the child for their strengths. Rather than pointing out the challenges some introverted children have, focus on those strengths.
Finally, avoid comparisons between introverted and extroverted kids. Don’t tell an introvert he or she should be more extroverted. Introverted children know they struggle with our cultural expectations of being gregarious and outgoing; they don’t need constant reminders of how difficult it is for them. Instead, meet them where they are and help them build on their many strengths.
JNJ Parents: Technology is both a blessing and a curse for many families, but particularly so with introverted kids. Explain this a bit.
Fonseca: I consider technology (especially texting, social media, and distance learning) the great equalizer for introverted children. It gives them a place to develop their social skills and appear more outgoing than is typically possible in face-to-face encounters.
That’s because face-to-face activities usually require significantly more energy output than online activities. In fact, many introverts find themselves behaving like digital extroverts, craving the social connections they often struggle to form otherwise!
That said, it is important that all children develop safe habits online and balance. I recommend that everyone take technology breaks. For at least one day a month, everyone stops texting, playing digital games (and video games), hanging out online, and even watching TV. Go outside. Play. Discover what it means to really talk to one another. With introverts, it is particularly important to balance it all.
JNJ Parents: Bullying is such a hot topic right now. Are introverted kids more susceptible to being bullied, and how can parents be proactive in preparing their kids for these situations?
Fonseca: Research has clearly shown that anyone can become a bully, and anyone can be a victim. This is true for both extroverts and introverts. But, introverted children may be less likely to report acts of bullying when they occur. Parents can assist children by talking openly about bullying in all of its forms. Furthermore, teaching children specific ways of handling and reporting acts of bullying is essential.
Critically acclaimed and award-winning nonfiction and YA author Christine Fonseca is an educational psychologist in Temecula School District and a speaker and workshop presenter on topics ranging from behavioral health, giftedness, emotional intensity, resiliency, and giftedness.
Her non-fiction titles include Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students, 101 Success Secrets for Gifted Kids, The Girl Guide, and Quiet Kids. She is also the author of several young adult novels.
Christine lives in San Diego with her husband two tween girls, and is a teacher, speaker, life coach and introvert. Join Christine on her blog, where she discusses issues our children face every day at home, in school and at play: christinefonseca.blogspot.com. You can follow Christine on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.