Are you worried that your child is at a disadvantage because he’s an introvert? Well, stop worrying! Introverts can be as successful as extroverts. Here’s how to maximise your child’s potential.
By Devishobha Chandramouli
It was just another normal day. I opened the gate of the day-care centre compound, carrying my just-turned-one baby, the supplies bag dangling from my shoulder. With my free hand, I led my toddler, who trudged along beside me. As soon as I entered the room, my baby wriggled out of my arms, attracted by the sight and sounds of the other kids. Meanwhile, my toddler walked to a quiet corner, a spot she had carefully chosen to suit her need for staying apart from the ongoing activity, and sat down with a book. As I waited in vain for my baby to at least turn and give me a good-bye look, engrossed as she was in her interactions with the other children, the difference in my children’s personalities seemed more apparent than ever before. One was obviously an introvert, the other an extrovert.
Who is an introvert? The word ‘Introvert’ means ‘inward turning’. An introvert is someone who tends to be focused on internal thoughts, feelings and moods, instead of seeking external stimulation. Introverts seek solitude because it renews and recharges them. Being around a lot of people drains them.
Who is an extrovert? The term ‘Extrovert’ means ‘outward turning.’ An extrovert is a person who tends to derive energy from external stimulation, mainly through interaction with other people. Action and loud noises energise and invigorate extroverts and they dislike working alone.
As any parent with two or more kids can testify, our children present us with a range of experiences. Each of them is unique because of their differing personalities. I am a parent of two, and I get to see an introvert and extrovert in action at the same time. The above example shows that my older daughter is comfortable by herself; her own inner world seems much more rewarding to her than the group of peers outside it. She doesn’t seem to want to socialise with the other kids, unlike my younger one.
Extroverts, on the other hand, like to be the centre of attention. They are the popular ones. They seem to do quite well for themselves among strangers. They are usually able to talk themselves out of any sticky situation. In other words, they make their parents look ‘hands-off’ and still seem fine.
If there’s one thing that’s evident from the difference between the two personality types, it is this: Society awards an aspirational status to extroversion. It is easy to see why. In modern times, a child’s abilities are judged by his active participation in and with a classroom or group of people. As adults, we have a work culture that emphasises the skill called networking (which, in turn is fuelled by small talk) for professional success. No wonder parents of introverts try to intervene in their child’s social life in a bid to get them to ‘gel’ with others.
We tend to view introverts as failed extroverts, which is not just unfair and harmful to introverts, but completely unnecessary too.
So, what does it mean to be an Introvert?
Seven years of research into the brains and lives of introverts led to the publication of Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, a Harvard psychologist who examines the rise of the extrovert ideal and the need to refute that ideal. About 30% of the population are introverts, and we still don’t understand them very well.
“Introversion- along with its cousins, sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness, is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are”, says Cain.
Cain’s book became a bestseller because it seemed to speak directly to introverts, and finally seemed to explain why we need to quit putting down introverts.
For a start, we need to understand what makes introverts, well, introverts:
The biological explanation amply proves that introverts and extroverts are just wired differently. Introversion is not a handicap. It’s just another way of being.
Now that we know there are biological differences, what can we do if we are in the company of introverts?
The first step is to be aware of the myths surrounding introverts. Here are a few:
Myth: An introvert is shy
Fact: Introversion is not the same as being shy, or being socially anxious, or having inadequate social skills. These behaviours can surface if the introverted child is forcibly put in situations that demand interacting with a large number of people, frequently. Introverts don’t enjoy small talk, but welcome deep, sustained discussions on even those topics that they are unfamiliar with. In fact, many introverts make excellent conversationalists.
ParentCircle spoke to Dr. Madhurini Vallikad, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist from NIMHANS, on shyness and introversion
“The difference between introversion and shyness is the difference between personality and behaviour. The two are very different. Both introverts and extroverts can be shy; shyness falls at the lowest end of the social anxiety spectrum. So, for example, being nervous about public speaking has nothing to do with your personality—it is a type of social anxiety. While introversion cannot (and should not) be changed because it is part of one’s personality, shyness can be overcome by a calm and accepting parenting approach.”
Myth: Being an introvert is a deterrent to success
Fact: Success in any field requires a strong, sustained and deep interest and passion in something - and that is often a natural trait in introverts. It also does not mean that introverts are not good team players - they can be very communicative once they have established a zone of comfort with their teammates. However, many of them prefer to work alone or in small groups. In fact, many introverts have been super-successful – for example, Albert Einstein, C. S. Lewis, Lance Armstrong, Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey, Rene Descartes, Sir Isaac Newton, Warren Buffet, Thomas Edison and Abraham Lincoln. This list is by no means exhaustive.
Myth: Introverts dislike people
Fact: There is a mistaken notion that introverts are asocial, reclusive or rude. It’s true that introverts tend to leave a loud and noisy party at the first chance. They are not exactly the back-slapping, bear-hugging kind. But many actually do quite well in social gatherings. (Socialising is indeed an effort for them, and they may need time alone in a calm, familiar environment to recharge, but once they do that, they’ll get back out again if need be). In fact, introverts often keep and cherish deep, long-term friendships even though they do not exactly make friends at the drop of a hat.
If you are raising an introvert, here’s what you can do to help your child:
Raising an introvert is challenging, but also rewarding in many ways. All you need to do is understand how an introvert thinks and feels, and allow the child to just be. Standing back a little here, nudging a little there, you can enjoy raising your introvert, and help her to enjoy life too.
About the author
Written by Devishobha Chandramouli on 30th July 2019.
Devishobha is the founder of Kidskintha- an online parenting resource repository dedicated to jumpstarting conversations around millennial parenting.
About the expert
Reviewed by Meghna Singhal, PhD, on 31st July 2019.
Dr. Singhal is a clinical psychologist with a doctorate degree from NIMHANS (Bangalore) and holds a post-doctorate in parenting from the University of Queensland (Australia). She is Head of the Content Solutions Zone at ParentCircle.
Flip through our clipbook on Introvert children here.
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