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If you have an introverted child, you probably struggle sometimes to find ways to help your child deal with new situations and new people. Here are some tips that really made a difference for my child.
My child’s personality is constantly fascinating me. Especially because he is so different than I was as a child.
I used to be a very extroverted child. I liked to be in the middle of everything that was going on at the playground. And I liked making new friends and socializing with other kids.
So when I first realized that my son is an introverted child I felt confused at first. His reactions during social interactions were very different from what my reactions would have been.
This sometimes made me feel powerless because I couldn’t find a way to help him when he was struggling. The truth was that for me it was hard to understand his way of acting.
When he is surrounded by familiar people he is very talkative and friendly. With his friends, he is very outgoing and takes initiatives all the time. But things change totally when he faces a new situation or meets new people.
Sometimes he can spend a lot of time just observing until deciding to take any action or interact with any of the new people. Or he can decide not to do this at all.
Sometimes we would go to a party and he would refuse to come in at first if he knows that there will be no familiar faces there. So we need to spend so time together, outside the party, until he is ready.
At the playground or at preschool, he always observes everyone before interacting. He doesn’t like loud kids and he prefers to have one or two close friends instead of being surrounded by a big group of kids.
Once he goes past the fear of interaction and starts feeling comfortable, everything changes. He is once again that confident child who likes taking initiatives and having fun with other kids.
I love my son’s personality! Because I know that he is a loving and caring child. He is a wonderful friend and he is really nice to other kids. But I also know that we live in a world that is not very good for introverted people. They are more likely to be left aside, to feel ignored and not heard, or even to be bullied by others.
So I tried to find ways to help my son. I wanted him to be more confident, to feel more comfortable making new social interactions, to express his feelings and needs in a firmer way.
The first step I took was to observe his behavior. This helped me understand more how he thinks and what are the things that help him adjust easier to different situations.
Then I read a lot! Like I said, understanding introverted kids wasn’t easy for me because I was totally different as a child. (I became more of an introvert as an adult but things are totally different at this age.)
Reading about this helped me find better ways to communicate with my son when he faces difficult situations. And allowed me to find some powerful ways to help him.
I will share all of these tips here because I’m sure that they will be helpful for other moms of introverted kids too!
Understanding the introverted child
The most important thing that every parent of an introverted child needs to know is that they cannot change the way their kids are. There is no magic trick that will make an introverted child suddenly become extroverted.
But there are tools that can help an introverted child adjust better to different situations and social interactions.
So the first step is to accept the child for who they are. Don’t try to change them! Instead just try to offer them the tools they will need for facing this extroverted world we are living in.
One important thing about accepting the child’s personality is to avoid any labeling. As parents, we often feel the need to “explain” the child’s behavior to others. But labeling the child as “shy” in front of other people is not doing any good! Instead, it makes things even more difficult for the child.
Hearing us labeling them can make kids feel like it’s something wrong with them. Or like they don’t belong there, with the “not shy” kids.
Helpful resources for parents of introverted kids:
Quiet Kids: Help Your Introverted Child Succeed in an Extroverted World (a book that helps parents understand and support their introverted kids)
The power of introverts (a very interesting TED talk about introverted people)
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (a book written by the speaker in the above TED talk that will change the way you see introverted people – the book refers mostly to introverted adults but it can be a great inspiration for raising an introverted child)
Helping the introverted child
Here are the tools that I’ve used in the last year with my son and they worked very well. He is still an introverted child (and he will always be) but he learned to deal a lot better with situations that used to make him feel very uncomfortable before.
1. Prepare the child for social interactions and new situations
When I know that we will face a situation that might be stressful for my son, I try to prepare him beforehand. We talk about what is going to happen (meeting a new playgroup, going to a new preschool, going to a party with new people).
I encourage him to tell me what worries him about that situation. Then, we talked about possible ways to overcome that fear.
Sometimes we discuss different scenarios and I invite him to come up with ideas on how to handle things. This helps him feel more prepared for what will come. And it makes some of the anxiety disappear.
2. Introduce the child to new situations in a slow way
If possible, I try to help him face the situation slowly. If we go to a party with new people, I try to arrive early for him to have time to adjust to the place and meet the new kids gradually. I did the same in the first days of preschool.
I noticed that my son is a lot more stressed out if he needs to go to a place where there are already a lot of new kids. He feels more confident if he has the chance to explore the place first and get to know the kids one by one.
Patience makes a great difference when dealing with an introverted child.
3. Make sure that you offer the child the support that they need
For my son, it’s very helpful to know that he has my support during these interactions. I usually let him know that I am there for him and that he can come to me anytime he feels overwhelmed.
If he comes to me asking for help, I encourage him to name his feelings. And I validate them. Then we look for different solutions that can help him feel better. In most cases, after we talk, he feels a lot more confident and is able to overcome his worries.
4. Don’t try to solve the problem for the child
This is something that I was so tempted to do at first. Sometimes our desire to help the child makes us do things for the child: ask for a toy if the child is afraid to ask, introduce the child to other kids, speak for the child, and so on.
But these things do more harm than good! First, because they solve the problem but they don’t teach the child how to solve it. Second, because we will not be able to always be with our kids to help them so they need to learn to do this on their own.
So what I did was to set some boundaries about how I can help him. He knows that he can always come to me to talk and find solutions together. But he also knows that I will never talk to a child for him, solve a fight for him, ask things from other kids for him, and so on. (I’m not talking here about situations when the parent’s involvement is necessary but about normal social interactions between kids.)
The main rule is that I don’t interact with other kids for him but I can always offer him my support to help him interact with them. This approach allowed him to get out of his comfort zone from time to time. And each of those cases helped him gain more confidence.
5. Use games and role play to teach the kids how to approach different situations
Play is such a powerful tool! I sometimes use role play to create different scenarios that I know that are difficult to handle for him. This eases the anxiety and helps him find ways to deal with different situations.
Games are great for teaching kids how to handle new situations or new people. Also, they can teach kids how to react to different social situations that they face. (I’ve created a very nice game about social interactions that my son loves to play and I will write about it soon because I’m pretty sure that it can help other kids too!)
6. Tell a story from your childhood
Kids love stories! So I sometimes use story time to tell my son stories that I know he will relate to. The most powerful ones are the stories where I share a struggle from my childhood and how I managed to overcome it.
My son is very happy to hear that I had struggles that are similar to his because this reassures him that there is nothing wrong with him and that all these challenges can be overcome. Because I wasn’t an introverted child I can’t really share helpful experiences about this.
But luckily my husband was an introverted child so I can tell stories about him. The fact that dad (his superhero :-)) was also an introverted child was a big help for my son. And hearing stories about this makes him feel more confident in his ability to deal with any difficult situations.
7. Give your child a superpower
This is a very nice idea that really works for my son! When he feels very worried about handling a particular situation, I ask him if he would want a superpower to help him. And he loves the idea!
So I give him something small that he can carry with him anywhere (like a sticker, a small plastic figurine, a bracelet). I tell him that I put all my love and support into that little item and that it will accompany him when he needs to face a difficult situation.
For example, when we prepared for his first day of preschool, we bought a wonderful book called “The kissing hand” that has little stickers that kids can take with them at school to remind them of the parent’s love. This worked so great and helped us so much!
So we use this idea for other situations too. And it’s like a boost of confidence that kids really need!
I hope that these tips will be helpful for you and your child too! If you have any other ideas about raising an introverted child, I would be happy to find them out and learn from your experiences.
If you want to read more about this topic, here is an article that was really helpful for me: For Extroverts: 15 Ways to Be a Better Parent to Your Introverted Kid.
photo credit: Sunny studio / shutterstock.com