Why are some kids social butter?ies while others are as quiet as church mice? How your child interacts with others is not a direct result of environment or experiences, as some might assume. Rather, “temperament, like eye color or physical build, is hardwired,” says educational psychologist Christine Fonseca, author of Quiet Kids: Help Your Introverted Child Succeed in an Extroverted World.
Clues & Cues
A timid demeanor can certainly be an indicator of introversion, but there are other markers that can clue parents in to a child’s temperament. Susan Cain, author of Quiet Power: A Guide for Kids and Teens, reveals among other prompts a sensitivity toward loud noises, uncomfortable clothing or extreme temperatures; marked hesitation when dealing with a new situation or new people; intense concentration on tasks and focus on details; and a drive for perfection. Introverted children may also be intent listeners, habitual daydreamers and the type of friend who bonds intimately with a select few.
Stability is essential for the introverted child. A sturdy foundation that includes a safe home environment and a strong attachment to family members – things that allow your child to be dependent – will ultimately lead to their maturity and independence, explains Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D. and author of The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child. “The introverted child seeks the comfort of predictability… in order to build trust.”
Boundaries are important, too. “Introverts often are really amazing, talented, gifted, loving children,” says Laney. But their desire to draw quietly on their own or play a game with just one other child instead of many isn’t so much a preference as it is a need. Your child learns how to connect and disconnect through interactions with others, and giving them the option to step back from the crowd “allows your child the space to appreciate [their] separateness,” explains Laney. “They need to have access to [their] thoughts, feelings and perceptions in order to have a sense of equilibrium.”
Empathy and support are also key in the introverted child’s emotional toolkit; the two go a long way toward building confidence. Acknowledging and supporting your child’s feelings helps them to develop their full potential. As children learn that their introverted temperament is acceptable and embraced by others, their self-esteem will grow and, in turn, so will their self-sufficiency.
While a tendency to isolate may top the list of parental concerns, introverted children have many strengths worth celebrating. “If they can embrace these advantages and learn to use them in positive ways, your introverted child will be well on their way to forging a fulfilling life path,” says Laney, who shares the following benefits:
- A rich inner life. Instead of depending on others, introverted kids rely on their own internal resources. “They want to know what things mean and why something matters. They’re not afraid of the big questions. They can step outside themselves and re?ect on their own behavior,” says Laney. To their greatest advantage, perhaps, is the fact that introverted kids are less vulnerable to peer pressure, as they’re inclined to be more self-reliant. “They make decisions based on their own values and standards, rather than running with the pack,” explains Laney.
- A love of learning. Introverts need lots of information to feed their brains, and satisfy their curiosity and interests, Laney notes. “They are continually comparing and contrasting what they are learning with their own personal reactions.” According to studies at The Gifted Development Center, 75 percent of children with very high IQs are introverts. However, when introverted kids aren’t taking in information that stimulates their minds, they can exhibit a lack of interest – especially in the classroom, where they can become bored or fidgety.
- A highly creative mind. From problem-solving to thinking outside the box to the creative arts, the introverted child’s unique worldview often allows them to shine. These outlets “offer a way to express what’s inside, without all that exhausting talk,” says Laney. She advises encouraging your child’s creativity “by allowing for freedom and expression without criticism.” And to encourage their original thinking, “seek their opinions on different matters.” By doing this, she adds, you can help them access their keen trouble-shooting abilities.
- A well-developed code of ethics. Introverted children have a strong awareness of their emotions and feelings, which affords them empathy toward others – what experts call emotional IQ. They also tend to develop a sense of morality and ethics early in life, notes Laney, and may be wise beyond their years. “Emotional health is crucial to success, because so much in life requires dealing with others,” says Laney. “So acknowledge and applaud your child’s ability to express their feelings.