Social scientists and child development experts will agree that, to a large extent, our personality is pre-determined by our genetic make-up. Apart from this, our socialisation experiences [family, school, culture and other socio-familial aspects] too determine how our inherent personality traits are shaped and how they are exhibited through our social behaviour - that is, the way we engage with people around us or how we act in different social situations.
When we speak of personality with reference to social behaviour, it is essential to know that there are two main types - ‘Introversion’ and ‘Extroversion’. These are two extremes on the spectrum of personality types. Here are a couple of examples to illustrate this.
In a social situation, a cautious toddler who demonstrates personality traits of introversion will take time to warm up to others, shy away from limelight and will not break into a dance or recite a nursery rhyme, just because you tell him to perform.
Whereas, in a similar social situation, a gregarious and easily excitable toddler who demonstrates personality traits of extroversion will be happy to receive attention, talk to others and, perhaps, even get into trouble running into things or being too loud.
There is recognition of personality traits and their bearing on social behaviour even within the school systems. As Anvita Gupta, renowned educationist and Principal of Pathways School (Primary Level), Gurgaon shares, “A teacher will have a mix of children who are introverted, extroverted, aggressive, passive, shy, gregarious… each with his own specific needs. She has to be sensitive and ensure that all students develop the skills that are needed to have a balanced personality. This is usually done by recognising different traits and ensuring that each child receives different experiences to develop each facet of his personality. We also partner with parents and share strategies with them, and work as a team.”
As a parent, it’s critical that you too should take a purposeful look at this link between your children’s personality traits and their corresponding social behaviour. This will help you support your children and help them be their best versions - be it as ‘confident introverts’ or ‘empathetic extroverts’.
A confident introverted child
As parents, we often worry about our introverted children and label them as being shy, lost, unmotivated or lonely. This is far from the truth! In fact, recent research has shown that many introverted children have a tendency to be more creative, persistent and even have a higher degree of emotional intelligence. So, why would you want to change that? The challenge, rather, is to learn to accept your introverted child as he is, help him find his strengths, build upon those strengths and empower him to feel confident of who he is.
So, just because a child is introverted, it does not mean that she lacks social skills or does not enjoy the company of others. Rather, it means that she does not feel the need to be the ‘life of the party’ or be voted ‘Ms Popular’. She is wired in such a way that she is most comfortable with a few select friends and is happy in their company. For example, an introverted child may act extroverted at home, in situations that are familiar to her. That also explains why a child who is quiet in school can be so chatty at home!
However, in my experience, to help our children maximise their strengths and opportunities, a healthy dose of social skills is important.
So, here are three strategies to enhance your child’s social skills:
- Provide opportunities for your child to take ‘social risks’ and be more independent in a social setting. For example, encourage your child to order his own meal at a restaurant. And when he does, reinforce it positively. Point out to your child that it was not as scary as he thought. This will help him to self-regulate these feelings of wariness so that the next time it will be easier.
- Be sensitive to not throw your child into the deep end of a social situation. Arrive early at a birthday party or any new setting. This gives your child ample time to settle in. Sign your child up for small group activities or play dates, where negotiating social bonds becomes easier with children sharing similar interests.
- Talk to your child’s teachers about your concerns. Your child might not have proactively shared her talents and abilities with her teachers. So, encourage the teacher to appreciate your child’s strengths and increase her involvement in classroom interactions. This will ensure that she is not overshadowed by her more outspoken classmates.
An empathetic extroverted child
By nature, extroverts are outgoing. The way they experience the world is by engaging with others, seeking opportunities to express themselves and getting attention.
Extroversion is seen by many as the preferred personality trait as extroverts seem to have a sunny disposition and are perceived to be more confident. However, it would be wrong to pigeon-hole them and label them as such. For many extroverts, who derive their sense of identity from their social interactions, being in the limelight and always ‘performing’ can be tiresome. Sometimes, if they do not get the social approval they seek [especially from their peers], many might hide their hurt or seek attention by taking on the role of the clown in the group.
So, here are three strategies to empower your extroverted child:
Teaching appropriate emotional expression - Most extroverts process emotions externally. This means that your child expresses his feelings openly and loudly, including his anger and frustrations. So in social situations, either with you or with his peers, he might have angry outbursts. So, helping your child to learn appropriate emotional expression is critical to enhance his interpersonal skills and handle his relationships.
Developing empathetic social skills - Since they have a need to share, be heard and thrive on group energy, extroverts could be seen as trying to ‘hog the limelight’ or labelled as ‘show-offs’, ‘chatterboxes’ or the ‘class clowns’. Their peers may not see them as fair team players [especially, if they are in the company of other extroverts!] However, it is important to know that this is not done on purpose; they are just responding to an inherent natural need. So, as a parent, you would need to talk to your extroverted child about these empathetic social skills - waiting for her turn, letting others talk, observing others, learning to listen patiently, reflecting, and thinking before responding.
Toning down the perceived hyperactivity - In social situations - like eating out in a fancy restaurant, attending a wedding, a religious ceremony or even a funeral - which require your extrovert to stay in one place, it may be akin to punishment to him! He may find it hard to show some restraint and his need to socialise, move around and explore may lead him into trouble. You might hear adults around you labelling him as undisciplined! So, prepare yourself and your extroverted child beforehand - talk to him about the need to slow down a bit, let him take his favourite book along and be reasonable about the amount of time you expect him to ‘hold still’.
Another variable to be aware of in this parenting journey of different personalities is your own inherent personality type! If, as a parent, you are introverted, you might find the exuberance of your extroverted child exhausting, while, as an extroverted parent, you might find your introverted child socially awkward or lacking confidence. So, do take a moment to see how your personality type impacts both your parenting style as well as your expectations from your child. Remember, irrespective of where your child falls in this spectrum of personality types, especially in the context of social behaviour, what is crucial is your unconditional acceptance of your child and the support you render her. For, each child has her own unique gifts and she will shine, no matter what!
Remember, irrespective of where your child falls in the spectrum of personality types, what is crucial is your unconditional acceptance and the support you render her.
‘Everyone shines, given the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk!’ - Susan Cain, author QUIET- The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
Aparna Samuel Balasundaram – is an award winning Psychotherapist, Parent and Child Expert, with 10 years of experience in the USA.
She is the Founder of Life Skills Experts that enables parents and teachers to raise happy, confident and successful children. www.LifeSkillsExperts.com
She is also the Founder of ‘A Flourishing Me’, that offers contemporary Counselling and Parent and Life Coaching [www.AFlourishing.me]