Suddenly, the world is waking up to the notion that introversion is not a disease. Susan Cain's book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking ignited the popular debate and got us all thinking about the challenges of living as an Introvert in an extroverted world. Post Cain, the Internet is awash with the issues involved in being an Introvert; among them, the specific challenges of raising Introverted children.
But what if the opposite is true? What if you're an Introvert who somehow has to raise an Extraverted child? Parenting, with all its pleasures and rewards, is challenging at the best of times. It's twice as hard if you are an Introvert with a child who craves interaction as much as you crave solitude.
As parents, it is our job to meet the needs of our children, no matter how those needs might drain our batteries. But it is also our job to raise our children in a socially acceptable way, and part of this includes teaching them to respect those who have different needs.
Is my child an Extravert?
Of all the personality types, children with a preference for "Extraversion" (with an "a" not an "o" - it's the word scientists use when they talk about the behavioral characteristics associated with extroversion) are the easiest to spot. You know you have an Extravert on your hands if your child:
- Is outgoing, even assertive
- Likes people in large doses
- Prefers playing in groups of children
- Talks a lot about everything
- Craves attention, and doesn’t understand why you might want to be alone.
For Introverts, parenting Extraverted children can be fascinating, frustrating and exhausting - sometimes all at once. It's going to take some special coping strategies to parent children who are so very different from you. Here are some of the things you might try:
Create time to talk
Your little Extravert needs to have a conversation about dinosaurs and Disney and pets and candy and teachers and friends and everything else under the sun. More often than not, his chatter stream will be directed towards you. Although it is tiring, you need to create the level of socialization that your child needs to thrive. In many cases, you'll end up having to talk beyond your comfort zone.
As soon as your child is old enough, look for opportunities to push the conversation deeper. Your child will benefit from looking inwards and probing their opinions further, and you'll feel energized by the deeper, more meaningful conversations.
Don't let your child dominate the conversation
Extraverts want to share their thoughts as soon as they have them, but there may be times when you're not able to handle your child's incessant output. If you're exhausted, or working, or busy making dinner, explain that you'd love to listen to your child's stories, but now is not a good time. Suggest instead that you'll listen in the car or before bedtime.With an older child, talk about your personalities and preferences so they can understand why mommy needs a break.
Create lots of opportunities for your child to interact with others
Other people are a gift for Introverted parents since they can take up some of the socializing slack. Check out local groups, clubs and extracurricular activities and ask family members and friends to share the babysitting duties. If you're starting to feel run down, take your child to a public play space - this is a treat for Extraverts who are inclined to meet new people. Just be sure to have the "stranger danger" talk before you go.
Build their self-resilience
It's hard for your Extraverted child to do anything by himself since periods of solitude will drain his energy. But there will be times when your child has to fend for himself, so it's important that he learns to cope on his own. Start by having your child do something for five minutes and stay nearby. Next, have them do something for five minutes, but this time, they cannot interact with you. Slowly extend the period until your child can happily play by himself. For all children, learning how to be alone and self-resilient is a valuable skill to develop. He won't always have a playmate, so he needs to learn to enjoy a little downtime, too.
Create transition time
Introverts need recharging time every day, especially if you are making the transition from one extroverted activity (the office) to another (parenting your Extraverted child). So set aside your parenting duties and watch TV, read a book, take a bath, or do whatever you need to do to revitalize. Do not feel guilty about making yourself a top priority. You're not being selfish. You're simply fueling your tank.
Look for activities you can share
Tea parties and other such romps in land of make believe can exhaust the Introvert, but there are plenty of focused activities that won't tap you out. Art, crafts and construction toys can be enjoyed in the experiential, verbally engaging, cooperative way your Extravert craves but won't leave you reaching for the door.
Raising an Extravert is tough. As an Introvert, you're nourished by quiet; there will be times when you're worn out by your child's need for interaction and movement. Exhaustion is inevitable - but there is common ground. In striving to meet your child's needs, it is not necessary to deny your own. You both have to manage your introvert/extrovert tendencies; exploring these preferences together can really help you to learn about each other, and yourself.