I had to do my research. My son definitely demonstrated the traits of an introvert and I found myself apologizing to people for his inborn actions. In the pit of my stomach, I knew that I, his parent, was wrong for apologizing. I needed to switch to advocating and affirming how he was reacting to nuisances, people included.
Never apologize for who you are, my grandma always reminded me. I was a shy, awkward child myself in public; at home, I was talkative and comfortable with my environment. As I grew older, teachers, family members, and even friends urged me to be more talkative. Oh the memories of, “Why are you so shy Kelly,” still haunt me today! I felt like something was wrong with me. I don’t want my son to grow up thinking the same thing. So that’s why my mindset is – Sorry, not Sorry.
One of the resources that really helped me transform my way of supporting my son was the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It’s inexpensive – $10.00 and an insightful, highly researched read. This article will highlight some of the important findings from that particular book.
As an adult, I’m an ambivert – both introvert and extrovert. I recently took a quick, 10 question quiz through Quiet Revolution to confirm my temperament.
There’s also a more comprehensive assessment of your temperament that you can take through Psychology Today; it’s 91 questions and takes about 25 minutes of your time.
There are a few of terms I’ll use throughout this article that are important to define, in order to be on the same page. Two of the terms are defined from the book, Quiet.
“Temperament refers to the inborn, biologically based behavioral and emotional patterns that are observable in infancy and early children” (Cain, S., 101).
“Personality is the complex brew that emerges after cultural influence and personal experience are thrown into the mix” (Cain, S., 101).
In addition to temperament and personality, we all have a combination of learning styles. According to Cultivating the Genius of Black Children: Strategies to Close the Achievement Gap in the Early Years, which is based upon the research and work from David Kolb (1984) and Kenneth Dunn (1978), “in general, learning styles represent the ways we prefer to take in and incorporate new information and have it stick” (Sullivan, D., 37).
Brief Summary of Learning Styles from the book, Cultivating the Genius of Black Children, found on page 37:
With our temperament, personality, and learning styles, how we react to the world around us through our five senses is quite complex. My take on affirming my introverted son (and husband) is banal – there’s not an original strategy or a transformational tidbit that will single-handedly evolve our extroverted world. BUT, through my active affirmations, I will model how my son can advocate for himself AND how I will ensure his success in the education system.
Being an elementary teacher myself, there are always a few students who had the distinct introverted temperament – with varying personalities and learning styles of course. Now also being a mother of an introverted son, understanding how they “tick” is extremely important for their lifetime success.
One developmental psychologist and scientist from Harvard University named Jerome Kagan launched a study of introverts and extroverts in 1989 with four month old babies, then followed the group of humans through adulthood. Kagan’s study observed how the babies reacted to new changes in their environment – sights, noises, and smells. From there, he categorized the babies into two main categories: high-reactive and low-reactive. My initial hypothesis was that the high-reactive babies would be extroverts and adversely the low-reactive babies would be introverts BUT it’s the opposite!
INTROVERTS – High-reactive babies:
“Kagan [found] that infants born with an especially excitable amygdala – the brain’s emotion switchboard, receiving information from the senses and then signaling the rest of the brain and nervous system how to respond – would wiggle and howl when shown unfamiliar objects; [therefore] these infants [would] grow up to be the children who were more likely to feel vigilant (or careful) when meeting new people” (Cain, 102).
EXTROVERTS – Low-reactive babies:
“The quiet infants were silent… because they had nervous systems unmoved by novelty (new stimuli introduced to their environment)” (Cain, 102).
Introverts literally FEEL their environment, that’s why an introverted child is more reactive. They are more sensitive, empathetic, and value judgement made around them. WOW! That’s fascinating to me; my son and husband make so much more sense to me now! According to the book Quiet, “high-reactive children pay ‘alert attention’ to people and things; they literally use more eye movements than others to compare choices before making a decision” (Cain, S., 103). Again, when I describe my husband and son to others, I totally use words like observant, analytical, methodical, reflective processor, and even stubborn! The males in my life are the opposite of impulsive. Even risk is calculated, in order to ensure they are making the right choice the first time. Important note: “All kids notice their environment and feel emotions, of course, but high-reactive kids seem to see and feel things more” (Cain, S., 103).
When Kaden began forming words, he’d listen and listen, try it on his own, and when he felt ready, he’d try the word around others. Some examples for Kaden were repeating himself at least twice to make sure he sounded right and skipping #7 when counting to 10 because it was a two-syllable word; he wanted to make sure he had it down before he said the word seven. With that said, I need to be patient. Rushing him tends to frustrate him. I often find myself balancing “try this Kaden” and “maybe later” or asking him to demonstrate what is being asked of him in a different way that’s more suitable for him.
According to the psychologist David Lykken, “high-reactive children may be more likely to develop into artists and writers and scientists and thinkers because their aversion to novelty causes them to spend time inside the familiar-and intellectually fertile-environment of their heads” (Cain, 109).
Also, for a year or so, I would constantly say, “my child needs social interaction,” because when he’d experience an unfamiliar situation, he’d refuse to interact with other kids his age or adults – even the ones he knew and even if the unfamiliar situation/people were in our home. I would get embarrassed and literally say sorry for him and say things like, “Come on Kaden, be nice and say hi.” For childcare, he was with one person, either his grandma or sitter; therefore social interactions were on a 1-on-1 basis. I learned from the book Quiet that introverts aren’t necessarily socially awkward, but need to socially orient themselves. They spend time observing and getting to know what’s going on around them. I’ve always said that my son has great discernment – who/what is trustworthy, friendly, sick, etc. – because of how he reacted. Moreover, introverts tend to play by themselves because it’s more common for them to hyper-focus on a particular interest and concentrate on it. For instance, when we are building a Lego house together, his concentration is impeccable. Many of his choices are strategized and have purpose. So, no! He doesn’t need more social interaction, he already is interacting, in his own way. Be gone embarrassment… hello sorry, not sorry! Wait until my son is ready. I knew Kaden was starting to feel comfortable with himself when he told a lady, “No talk please,” and turned his face. I then turned to the lady and said with a smile, “He has great stranger danger.”
As I mentioned in the beginning, I do believe I started out my life as an introvert and am now an ambivert. Kagan also acknowledges that “environmental factors [can] produce an introverted personality independently of, or in concert with, a reactive nervous system” (Cain, 107). So whether your child is born with an introverted temperament or develops an introverted personality, there are practical ways to affirm and support him or her.
Ways to Affirm Introverts
- Be Patient – Listen to his/her verbal & nonverbal cues.
- Stray away from uniformity – Allow him/her to be a unique individual.
- When experiencing new things, be warm and firm to help them be comfortable with operating outside of their comfort zone.
- Afford time for independent, solo activities.
- Give think time to answer questions and processing time to synthesize a situation. (My son’s self-awareness is amazing!)
- Explain/narrate what’s going to happen or what is currently going on to ease the nuisances.
- Promote self-reflection to foster curiosity. “I wonder…” “What do you see?”
- Provide rationale. “I’m doing this to keep you safe.”
- Nurture the natural empathy towards others. “How could you help make them feel better?”
- Stray from being hostile or harsh because they do take those judgments & corrections to heart.
- Stay consistent and follow routine to ensure predictability – changes are good in moderation. The family structure should be as stable as possible because it may take longer to process adversity and forgive.
- Delayed gratification – Build on the complexity of his/her achievements.
- Slow down, be present, and engage. Remember, s/he is taking in and responding to everything around them. Introverts are more likely to feel rejection deeply, which increases the risk of anxiety and depression for high-reactive children/adults.
- Stick up for or affirm their reactions – Try not to apologize for their shyness.
- Teach him/her how to respectfully decline. “I’m not ready right now.” “More time please.”