For introverted children, the process of making friends is complicated. They have far less opportunity than adults to design their own social scene and usually wind up looking for playmates in the neighborhood park or school playground. While extroverted kids can handle such a loud and boisterous environment, introverted kids are typically overwhelmed by the noise and activity. They find it hard to start talking; many will simply retreat to the safety of the sandbox or a good book.
For extroverted parents, this can be difficult to observe. Parents, and especially extroverts, often push their introverted children to be outgoing - as if their child's popularity is somehow a reflection on. who they are as a person. But pressure is the last thing that an introverted child needs. It's better to help them make friends on their own terms, rather than pushing them to be something they are not.
Here are some things you can do to help your introverted child build social muscle in a way that works for him or her.
Facilitate a small group playdate
Setting up a one-on-one or small group playdate is a great way of getting your child used to social interaction on manageable terms. Parents are in a good position to make this happen, since you can choose the playmate, frequency and location that will make your child the most comfortable.
For example, if your child is very inwardly focused, you can arrange a playdate in your home and stay with your child while she plays, or allow her to take time out if it all gets too much. Younger kids need direction, so you may want to leave out some art materials or a box of dress-up clothes, depending on your child's interests. Introverted children may also find it easier to play with younger kids since they are easier to interact with and less threatening.
It's also wise to give your child plenty of advance notice of the playdate. Introverted children typically need time to think about the upcoming event in order for them to adjust properly.
Role play difficult situations
If your child is nervous about meeting new people, it may be helpful to role play those initial encounters. You can pretend to be another child or use stuffed animals to act out a difficult situation. When your child is ready, encourage him to apply his newfound skills in the playground.
Baby steps are important here - it may be some time before your child is ready to run into a crowded room. But you could set up a challenge for him to do something small, for example, say "hi" to someone. Even the smallest accomplishment will broaden his social experiences.
Sign them up for an extracurricular activity
Introverted adults typically make friends based on shared interests and compatibility, in ways that do not cause social burnout. Signing up for an extracurricular activity is the classic way to achieve these goals, since focusing on an activity you enjoy means there's less pressure to chit-chat with strangers.
This approach works equally well for children. Extracurriculars provide kids with an immediate sense of belonging to a group they have something in common with, and it puts the child in control. Assuming the activity takes place over several weeks or months, your child will have plenty of time to warm up and ease into possible friendships on her own terms.
Don't play the numbers game
Children, and some adults, have a tendency to evaluate a person's worth by how popular they are. This sets the bar very high for introverted children, who typically prefer their own company. As a parent, it is your job to explain that having lots of friends is nice, but having a few really good friends is even better. It's perfectly OK to have one close buddy instead of befriending the whole neighborhood.
No matter how much you value a large social network, it's silly to play the numbers game. Instead, focus on helping your child make at least one positive friendship that makes him happy. If you observe your child playing well with another child, and having good conversations while tolerating the awkward silences, then rejoice! These skills lay the foundation for intimacy, and your child's future relationships will flourish because of them.