Parenting an introverted child can present a challenge for parents, especially if the parents are natural extroverts who find their child’s behavior difficult to manage. Children who are introverts are commonly described as shy, but, they just need a little more time than others to participate in social gatherings. They enjoy plenty of downtime and also being on their own to feel comfortable. In other settings, they may cling to parents awkwardly at birthday parties, refuse to greet family members, or shy away from asking the teacher to use the restroom at school.

The key to parenting an introverted child is to do your best to empathize and understand what your child is experiencing and to keep your expectations realistic. Observe them and their reactions to different situations. You should not aim to change your child’s temperament, but instead provide him or her with the tools they need to successfully navigate situations that are challenging for them.

Here are some tips for parenting your introverted child:

1. Read up on temperament. Temperament is not something your child chooses or something that you caused. It is a mixed result of hereditary and environmental factors. Once you realize that your child is not choosing to be this way, you can gain a new perspective on how to deal with uncomfortable situations. While you’re at it, you can also try to figure out your own temperamental style. This will help you better understand how to support your child.

2. Prepare your child for social events. When attending social events:

  • Describe to your child where you are going, who will be there, and what kind of event you will be attending. This helps your child prepare mentally for what’s to come. A birthday party may mean many children, adults, food, and fanfare, which are all potentially overwhelming to your child. A prepared child will cope better.
  • For older children (3 years and up), try role-playing difficult scenarios. This helps them learn new skills and amps their self-esteem because they feel like they have practiced these skills already, and it won’t feel so awkward when the situation comes around.
  • Give your child options for greeting family members and other loved ones, including giving a kiss hello, a hug, a high-five, a wave, or saying hello. This helps your child feel in control and teaches social norms. Explain to them beforehand what the expectation is for greeting others taking into consideration their feelings about it. Don’t criticize them in front of others (in general, for that matter) for not saying hello or for taking their time to adjust to a new setting.
  • If your child feels nervous, let them know that it is okay for them to sit by you until they feel comfortable to play with others. They should not be forced to play with the kids or criticized for “wasting” time. Allowing your child time to sit and observe others lets him or her know that you understand.
  • Suggest accompanying your child to the group of kids, introduce yourself and your child, and try to show some similarities between the children. Do not force your child to play or leave them immediately.

3. Explain upcoming changes. When anticipating a new event/change in routine, describe and explain to your child what is to come. New nanny? New preschool? Let them know, and give them the time they need to process and sort out any fears related to the change.

4. Plan for extra time. Given that your child may need more time than anticipated to cope with changes, include that extra time in the schedule of your daily activities.

5. Allow them their downtime. Introverts tend to have incredible imaginations and enjoy playing on their own or with few friends. Remember these things take time and practice. If done so correctly, your child may be able to loosen up more so in social events. Offer your child lots of support and time to help them feel comfortable in their environment.

Reviewed by Eva Benmeleh, March 2020

Takeaways

  • Your child may never be an extrovert, but you can use simple role-playing tactics to help them learn new skills and boost self-esteem.
  • Be clear and thorough about the event, so your child knows who will be there and what will be happening.
  • Make sure to plan in extra time in the event your child needs it to cope with changes.

References

  1. Lieberman, A. (1993). The Emotional Life of the Toddler. New York: The Free Press
  2. Zero to Three Organization. Cautious, Slow to Warm Up Temperaments.

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