You could say I’m an extrovert.
In high school I was a cheerleader, participated in Student Council, took leading roles in plays and musicals, was voted both Homecoming Princess and Best Personality, and drove my parents crazy with my incessant need to hang out with friends. (Why is this so embarrassing to me now?)
Even though I’m now a much more subdued forty-something who no longer needs to be the center of attention, I still derive my energy from being around other people. I am instantly perked up by a lunch with friends, I enjoy public speaking, and I have no problem striking up conversations with total strangers. In fact, I dream of being a talk show host where I can meet new and interesting people and talk to them all. day. long.
Introverts, on the other hand, derive their energy from being alone, and get worn out (even stressed out) from too much social activity and small talk with strangers. They usually only have a few close friends (think quality over quantity), tend to enjoy solitary activities such as reading, and don’t share their feelings easily. Introverts do more listening than talking, enjoy watching from the sidelines, and can become deeply humiliated after making a mistake in public.
But before you think of being an introvert as a deficit, in many circles introverts are considered “more intelligent, more reflective, more independent, more level-headed, more refined, and more sensitive,” as Jonathan Rauch wrote in his Atlantic article, “Caring For Your Introvert.”
So what does it look like when an extroverted mother tries to raise an introverted child? (Some estimates put introverts at almost half the population, so this could definitely be you!) For me, not so pretty, at first.
As a new mother, I just assumed all my children would be little chips off the old block. As such, I didn’t even think about (let alone try to understand) introverts or the possibility that one of my children might be one. In my world, being an extrovert wasn’t just normal, it was good and right. After all, being friendly, outgoing, and popular is a sign of being happy and well-adjusted, isn’t it? And assertive, outspoken people who can comfortably take the lead (and the spotlight) get the best jobs and make the best leaders, right?
Not always so, says Susan Cain in her landmark book on Introversion, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. In her book, she not only explains the fundamental shift in our society from a “Culture of Character” to a “Culture of Personality”, but how, despite that shift, introverts still live perfectly happy, well-adjusted lives and are among the greatest thinkers and leaders we have. (Think Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Steven Spielberg, and Ghandi.)
In fact, she suggests that if introverts were simply left alone to do what they do best in the environment of their choosing (as opposed to the pervasive message from society that they should act more like extroverts), we would probably have even more creativity and leadership coming from the introverted crowd. (And if you don’t believe our society is geared toward extroversion, consider why my daughter’s Driver’s Ed class would require a group video-making project this past summer.)
But again, I didn’t know anything about introversion when I was raising my first (very introverted) child, so I was constantly worried about her shyness. (And you should know there is a big difference between shyness and introversion–a shy person wants to join in but is afraid, whereas an introvert truly wants to watch from the sidelines or go home and read a book. They should not be treated the same way.)
I was convinced I could train her to be a “happy, well-adjusted” extrovert like me with enough time and exposure to the right situations. I organized play dates, planned big birthday parties with group games, encouraged her to do group sports (a total flop!), and had many heartfelt (and not so heartfelt) conversations with her about how she should be interacting with other people. To be honest, I got very frustrated at times, because I just couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t want to be beloved by all and constantly interacting with her fifty closest friends. It just didn’t compute in my extroverted brain.
This wedge between us only escalated when she became a teenager and still didn’t exhibit what I thought were “normal” behaviors. Why wasn’t I having to tell her to get off the phone to do her homework (like when I was a teenager)? Why didn’t she want to hang out with friends on the weekend (like when I was a teenager)? Why wasn’t she signing up to be on the Student Council (like when I was a teenager)? Why didn’t she have more friends (like when I was a teenager)? What was wrong with her? Well, as you can probably guess, the problem was mine. I just didn’t understand and appreciate my daughter for who she really was–a true blue introvert, which is something to be celebrated.
I’m still learning and adjusting my own behavior, but I’d like to share with you five things (tips, if you will) that I think every extroverted mother should know when raising an introverted child.
- Understand the personality traits of an introvert. I would recommend the book I already referred to, Quiet (Susan Cain also has an excellent TED talk ), but you can find a slew of information on the internet as well. Extroversion and introversion are inherent personality traits that come with their own unique set of characteristics. An introvert can no more “come out of their shell” than an extrovert can be happy living in solitude. But that doesn’t mean introverts can’t or don’t want to socialize, they just need to do it in their own way and with their own boundaries. (I have the best one-on-one conversations with my daughter!) If you are an extroverted mother like me, understanding the inherent personality traits of your introverted child can go a long way in stamping out your unnecessary worries and giving you much needed insights for raising an introverted child.
- Help them develop their passions. Introverted kids often have the capacity to develop great talents and passions. Encourage them with enthusiasm! The ability to focus intensely on an activity is an introvert’s strength and can bring them a great sense of happiness and well-being in addition to the confidence that comes from developing their talent. Group sports like soccer may not be in the cards for your introverted child, but try to think outside of the box and notice what interests them. My daughter is a gifted artist, loves to read and write, and plays the harp. If these solitary activities bring her happiness and success, why would I push her to do something else?
- Follow your child’s lead. Forcing your introverted child to spend more time socializing or participating in a million activities is not going to make them more outgoing, it’s going to stress them out. I have long since given up on group sports for my daughter (she does like golf), and it took her about three years after moving to Utah (at the time she was entering junior high–ugh!) to establish two very good friends. While she does get together with her friends almost every weekend, she still has weekends when she prefers to be alone. This may sound painful to an extrovert, but I’ve learned to follow my daughter’s lead when it comes to socializing and let her do what makes her comfortable and happy.
- Respect your child’s need for quiet time and space. With all the group projects (and even group seating!) that happen in schools today, your introverted child will most likely come home exhausted and need to recharge alone in their room with the door closed. Respect that. Again, the most generic definition of an introvert is someone who gets their energy from being alone, so let them be alone in their own private space. If they have a birthday party to attend, arrive early so they don’t have to break into the group, and let them retreat or stay on the sidelines as they wish. Don’t plan too many play dates for your child and preferably not with a large group of friends. Your introverted child is perfectly happy spending time alone or only occasionally getting together with one or two close friends. Remember, an introvert thrives in beautiful ways when they are left alone. Being alone is only sad to an extrovert!
- Accept and love your introverted child just the way they are. Introversion is not a dysfunction, it’s a personality trait. Again, don’t try to turn your child into an extrovert. By responding to your child’s normal behavior as though there is something wrong with them that needs to be fixed, you are giving them an unintended message that may damage your relationship with them as well their sense of self-worth. If you’re worried you may have already done some damage, resolve today to let them be who they really are and then find common ground and interests you can enjoy together. As an example, my daughter turned 16 this past September, and instead of planning an elaborate surprise birthday party for her (something I would have loved as a teenager), my husband and I surprised her with a long weekend trip away (just the three of us) where we did some of the things she likes best: hiking in the great outdoors and visiting art museums. Introverts are typically very smart, deep thinking, good at problem solving, focused, creative, sensitive, and fascinating to talk with one-on-one –what’s not to love?
While the thought of being a cheerleader or hanging out with friends every spare minute of the day makes my daughter cringe, I’ve finally come to not just understand and accept her, but to feel a great sense of love and pride for who she really is. Because of her introversion, she has developed great musical and artistic abilities that bless everyone around her, and she is much more mature and not nearly as affected by the opinions of others as I was as a teenager. In fact, she was perfectly comfortable with herself long before I was.
The lesson here for the extroverted mother raising an introverted child is to remember that just because they are your child doesn’t mean they will be just like you. In fact, they may be even better.
So great to remember this during the holidays, when there are so many “group” activities. Just this morning, I asked my daughter what she would like to do with me during Christmas vacation. She said, without any sarcasm or sassiness, that she wanted to be left alone.
Allyson Reynolds says
And thankfully you understand that she means it and that it isn’t a bad thing!
Sharon Anderson says
I love this Allyson! This is so my oldest daughter. And I’ve been trying to get her to sign up for team sports for years and I never thought of her disinterest in them as a link to being introverted. Because she’s really good at sports when she does play them. She just has no interest. She’s very artistic and loves to read, write and play the piano. Anyway, thanks for this!
Allyson Reynolds says
Hi, Sharon! If she is really athletic, maybe try an individual sport? It’s good that you are figuring this out now and not later like me!
linda eyre says
Love this! We have an introvert that we are just beginning to understand. Good info on this very common trait!
Allyson Reynolds says
Saren and I had a conversation about it, actually. It’s so fascinating how different each member of the same family can be. Nice to see you on here!
Julia Jacobsen says
I needed this article and conversation on Studio 5. I have an introverted daughter entering into teenage life, and it isn’t always easy when I am more extroverted and she is an introvert. I will take these things to heart. Thanks for breaking it down for us!
I can relate to this so much! I learned real quick with my first child that planning birthday parties and going to big play groups was out of the question, as they only caused stress and tears. This was so hard for me to understand as a true extrovert who thrives on people and parties! My first child taught me a lot of.patience and understanding. The funny thing is that my husband is an introvert but I didn’t really realize it til AFTER we were married. It was like I refused to see that people were really like this even though I fell in love with one. Now I love introverts and appreciate all their positive traits. Great article and good reminder to cherish those introverts in our lives!
Allyson, I love you. As an introvert, I can relate to everything you say. I think we live in a very extroverted world, or, like you mentioned, at least one where wanting to be alone is considered “sad” or “weird” all too often. I’m 32 now and I still get weird looks on monday when my response to “What did you do this weekend?” is “I stayed home”.
Your daughter is lucky to have a mom who understands and accepts her for who she is and who took the time out to research all this.
I’m a teacher and I often encounter worried parents of my introverted students who wonder why their child isn’t socializing more. I always try to explain to them their child is an introvert and what this means. From now on, I shall direct them to your article.
Amy Fonseca says
Allyson, this is great! My daughter is a “true blue” introvert as well, and Susan Cain’s “Quiet” was probably one of the most life-changing books I’ve ever read. The other thing I’ve learned is that introverts take longer to process info. Once I learned this, I stopped rushing my daughter all the time. It really helped. Thanks for these wonderful tips! They’re truly appreciated.
This brings me to tears. I can so relate. I was like you in high school, a cheerleader, a dancer, loved to hang out and talk to friends. I am a true extrovert that has become more introverted as I get older (I’m 40 now)I can appreciate quiet time (especially with two little ones,) but I do love to meet new people and socialize. It pains me to see my oldest daughter (almost 4) acting so shy around people. She hides her face and clings to me. When I drop her off at preschool she refuses to talk to her teachers. I can see that my other daughter’s (2 1/2)personality is electric. She is funny, outgoing, and everyone loves her. It just makes me sad that my older one doesn’t get that happy reaction because she is rejecting them. If she were an adult, she would be considered rude for this. Anyway, I’m definitely struggling with this. I just want her to be happy and to feel the love from others and I fear that her pulling away will drive people away. Any advice?
Tracy L says
Boy, am I so thankful for this entry today, one year after you wrote it. I plan to re-read and re-read again, and maybe even tattoo it somewhere on my body. I’m in the frustrated, “is my child normal?” early teen stage, and I’m moving out of it and into just loving her completely as she is . . . in part thanks to this piece, but mostly just because she’s pretty darn groovy.
amy volk says
I just stumbled upon this site as I looked for help on raising an introverted child. My daughter is 16 & I have found myself annoyed at her and frustrated by what I thought was sullenness and avoiding people. But as I prayed and talked with her tonight the light bulb went off that she is an introvert. DUH…why hadn’t I seen this before? I’m an extrovert of course and couldn’t imagine spending so much time alone but she is perfectly happy.
Thank you for writing this. I feel the heaviness is gone and I finally “get” her. What a blessing.
Wow. I am so glad to find this information. I am struggling right now with trying to understand my teenage introverted daughter. I am so worried about her because she seems so melancholy. I am concerned about what college she chooses and if we are in the right high school for her. She and I are complete opposites and I feel at a loss.
I can relate so well! I too am a total extrovert and my youngest daughter is a true introvert. Even though I know this, it is so difficult for me to understand her “melancholy”. I worry that she is missing out by not engaging with friends and tonight she told me she is always feels left out if she is with a group of girls. And that brings us to college next year; She has “school” friends but most definitely prefers to be at home reading or just by herself. I worry that she will not find “her people” when she goes away to school. After reading this article, it has helped me to believe she will be just fine! Thank you for helping me open my eyes and heart.
Thank you so much for your eloquent article. I struggle often with the fact my first born (age 15) is an introvert. I am an extrovert from a loud, opinionated and very vocal family. I think I always look to have my social life be “provided” by my daughter and in a way I “grieve” that she doesn’t provide me with another outlet to meet people. My other daughter is clearly an extrovert and my son loves people everywhere he goes. I need to remind myself that she’s not complaining, she finds true joy in so many of the little things in life and is so much more at peace than me! I project my feelings onto her, which isn’t fair. Thank you for reaffirming the gift of what an introvert can be to an extrovert. I pray God continues to help me appreciate her gifts each day.
Andrea Straka says
Such wonderful insight. Being the extrovert sometimes comes with not noticing things like this. Thank you!
Sara Rich says
What if the tables are turned… I’m the introvert and I have a child (or two) that is an extrovert? (True story?). This article does help me to understand myself and my one introvert child though!