He’s not shy, upset or left out. 5 tips for parents of introverts

introvert jamesI have two sons and, taking after their momma, they both show tendencies toward introversion. Introversion simply means they need time to themselves to recharge. They like to move away from others in order to think and process. Many times this can be mistaken for being shy, angry, upset or feeling left out. But, it’s different. When my son moves away from the crowd to go sit by himself, it’s not because he’s shy. On the contrary, he’s a very confident person who enjoys having one-on-one conversations with a variety of folks. He has even made friends with the local grocery store’s, “free sample lady,” who he’s been visiting regularly for almost three years. His punctuality, genuine friendliness and courteous behavior help him build lasting relationships.

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He doesn’t feel, “left out.” He feels like sitting out. Often, my son will look for opportunities to quietly disappear from a group.. even at family functions. One minute, he’ll be chomping down on the celebratory treats or chatting it up with family members and the next he’ll be gone. If it’s daylight, I will usually be able to find him by glancing outside to catch him sitting all by his lonesome self. I know, however, that it’s not loneliness. It’s introversion.

As an adult, I can’t tell you how difficult it is for other people to deal with my introvert tendencies. If I sit off to the side, uninterested in small talk or disappear for a walk in the fresh air of the outdoors.. people wonder. They wonder all sorts of things. They tend to turn my need for quiet and solitude and disinterest in group discussions into something about them or something wrong. But, it’s neither. It’s all about me… and it’s all about what’s right for me, not what’s wrong with me.

IMG_4193The same goes for my son. I understand this. But, many parents don’t. This is the danger of always jumping in to, “save the day,” and taking your introvert child’s mannerisms and behavior in a way it wasn’t intended to express. An introvert child doesn’t always want to be part of a group activity. They don’t always want to be included. They can be deep thinking individuals who rely on being able to separate from the group in order to satisfy a craving for thought processing and energy recharging.

Think of it in terms of your mobile device. When the battery is running low, you plug it in to recharge. If you set it and forget it, it will charge quickly and you can be on your way. But, if you consistently mess with it while it’s charging, the charging process will be slower and could be interrupted altogether.

Ways to allow your introvert to recharge…
1. Don’t assume that, by attending a social event, your child wants to be included in the group activity non-stop from start to finish. If they walk away, let them.

2. Don’t jump in to save the day by pestering an introvert with questions about why they, “aren’t having fun,” or “sitting by themselves.” Just leave them alone. You can wait until they approach you before asking a less judgmental question like, “Did you enjoy your quiet time sitting by yourself?” Forming your question this way doesn’t imply that there’s something weird or wrong about taking some time to yourself. It’s important for them to know that it’s ok to get away and recharge or they can become overloaded, overwhelmed and cranky trying to be more, “normal.” 

3. Be quiet with your child. My son and I enjoy getting away from the group and walking quietly with each other. We don’t have to talk about everything. It’s ok to just walk along and be in silence, together. There are plenty of sounds to hear & enjoy that aren’t spoken. Introverts like to pay attention to those sounds.

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4. Let them warm up to a conversation. Sometimes, it takes a moment to realize that someone is trying to have a conversation. Introverts tend to have a lot going on in their mind and may not be receptive to outside questions & statements. Always give an option of talking about it later, if they are having a difficult time connecting with the conversation you want to have. This gives them time to ponder the seed you’ve planted with your questions and statements before diving into a conversation unsure.

5. Don’t take it personally. An introvert’s need to be alone has nothing to do with you or anyone else. It’s all them. It doesn’t mean they find you uninteresting or that they don’t like you. It just means, they need to “plug in,” and recharge and don’t want you pushing their buttons while they do it. 

3 thoughts on “He’s not shy, upset or left out. 5 tips for parents of introverts

  1. I’m also an introvert and often find myself having to explain to people that it’s not them when I disengage during a party or group activity/outing. As adults and as parents, it’s especially important that we let children engage in ways that are healthy for them without judgement as you point out. These are great tips for interacting positively with children (as well as adults) who are introverts.

  2. Wow. This was so me as a kid and I remember teachers trying to intervene on the playground, and they even send me to counseling! I just wanted to be by myself; it’s just how I am. My oldest is like this, but my daughter is a total extrovert like her dad.

    1. So many of us introverts were simply misunderstood. 😉 We can avoid that by getting the word out about our children and treating them with the acceptance and respect that we were denied.

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