I’ve had to learn this for myself. My kids are split down the middle — half are extroverts and half are introverts. At the end of the school day, I have a son who wants to tell me everything, each detail of the day, before bursting out the door to play with neighbors. My introverts come home drained of energy. They don’t like to be pestered with questions. They often have their noses in a book. (I’ve had to learn to keep my mouth shut after many pleas of “Mom, can I just read right now?”) They like a chunk of time alone. After all, they’ve been with people for seven hours straight. These same boys of mine sometimes spend recess by themselves as well, swinging or thinking. They need that time to recharge. Then, and only then, are they ready for friends, questions and more social interaction.
Here are things I’ve learned from my limited experience as a parent of introverted children:
Playdates need to be shorter than with my extroverts. My introverts burn out socially much faster.
They open up best at night, when they’re tucked into bed.
When they are ready to talk, I need to be ready to listen, right then.
They value one-on-one time, especially special outings.
They are content with one, maybe two friends.
They can’t do as many social things. One instrument and one sport is pushing it.
I also try to give my kids a lot of downtime. We watch very little TV (another attribute of introverts is their sensitivity to frightening or violent images, and that goes for all ages), and I keep music at a low volume.
Some of these choices are conscious, some I’ve made sub-consciously. I certainly don’t stamp a big “I” on my more introverted children. It’s just one of the many subtle observances a parent makes as she tries to create a meaningful life for her family.
Of course, this doesn’t preclude the need for group activities. Children need social interaction and good friends, and they absolutely need to learn cooperation and teamwork. One thing I love about family life is that it plays out like one massive group project, a group project that spans multiple decades and multiple generations.
And that is where the power of the extrovert comes in. Cain begins her book by talking about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. She highlights the fact that it was the pairing of the introvert with the extrovert that created the sea-change for the Civil Rights Movement. The same happens in our families, in our school space, in our church community and at work. Cain quotes Allen Shaw, who wrote, “A species in which everyone was General Patton would not succeed, any more than would a race in which everyone was Vincent van Gogh.”
We need both the introvert and the extrovert, both sides of the coin. We need to appreciate the strengths of both. Most importantly, as a society obsessed with the charismatic leader, we need to take special care that the introverted among us, those quiet children on the corners, don’t get left behind.
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