I'm extrovert, and always been. I am social, I make friends easily, and I generally get along with most people I meet. I am not intimidated in a group of strangers, I don't shy away from social gatherings, and I thrive around people and in large crowds. So, when I had my daughter I just assumed she'd be like me. I didn't really understand what it's like to be an introvert and, because I lacked that learned understanding, I didn't realize I was shaming my introverted kid by forcing her to succumb to certain social norms I naturally adapted to.
If you're an extrovert, like me, you may be slightly baffled by your introverted kid. I used to seriously wonder if there was something actually psychologically wrong with my daughter. (Put down your pitchforks, I'm admitting my flaw here.) I didn't understand it. Turns out, she and I are just wired differently. She is much more like her father, who exists somewhere in between. The problem was never my kid, the problem was always me. I didn't know, I wasn't given a manual or a guide of any kind, and there was no book of rules and regulations that I could blindly follow.
I've met more than a few parents that live in denial when it comes their kids actual abilities,strengths, and weaknesses. I thought I would be different. Since I work with so many different kids from different backgrounds, I thought I would be able to recognize my kid's personality type and parent accordingly. In my classrooms, I am able to individualize learning based on how my students are wired. I provide different opportunities for learning, never call on students who do not like to speak in front of others, and arrange safe spaces and variable assignments based on individual needs.
So, color me surprised when I recognized I completely misjudged my daughter's nature. I did not realize my actions and words were actually hurting my tiny introvert. When she would put her head down and cover her ears when everyone sang to her on her birthdays, I thought she just had a minor sensory issue. When I asked her, she said it was just too loud. I didn't realize she was uncomfortable. I love(d) being the center of attention, she does not.
It wasn't until my son was born that my assumptions and inklings finally clicked. Instantly, I saw a huge difference between the two of them. My son is clearly an extrovert. He gets in people's faces, he's the "pay attention to me" kid, and he says "hi" to every person at the supermarket. My son revels in attention. It wasn't until my son that I realized just how introverted my daughter is. She isn't shy, she is simply of a different temperament.
So, dear readers, learn from my errors in judgement and maybe you can save yourselves the guilt that now constantly tugs at my soul and rests on my shoulders.
Forcing Them To Be Affectionate
This is the one area my kid and I are similar. I never wanted to be kissed when I was a kid. I shied away from my grandparents' advances, and from virtually everyone else, when they tried to greet me with a kiss. If the person somehow managed to kiss me, I would wipe the kiss off as a silent, but very visible, protest. My grandmother quickly learned to give me a gentle kiss on my head rather than on my face, which I guess was more comfortable for me.
My daughter is the same way. She is not very affectionate, even with me and my husband. She likes to cuddle and to hug, but only on her terms. If I force her to hug me, she retreats and becomes irritated.
Forcing Them To Say Hello
For years I thought my kid was simply rude. I literally could not understand why she refused to greet people. I'm not referring to strangers, either. I'm talking about people she has known since she was a toddler. I'm talking about her friends' parents and my close friends. I was embarrassed by her lack of courtesy and manners. I would have daily conversations with her about how impolite she was. I would even punish her because I thought she was just being purposefully defiant.
Later I learned that, for an introverted kid, a simple nod and smile should do. She may not feel comfortable actually saying "hello," but if she acknowledges someone's greeting with a courteous response, that is great.
Forcing Them To Speak Up
We should absolutely teach our kids confidence and foster their ability to stand up for themselves, but the approach for this differs for every child. For my introverted kid, teaching her to speak up for herself is like tuning a guitar, in that it requires meticulous precision and utmost care. I don't want my introverted kid to be intimidated by the world, and I don't want her to not be able to express her ideas out of fear of ridicule.
However, when I aggressively forced her to voice her opinions or to stand up for herself, she quickly retreated and just cried. So, I gently encourage her to speak up in small ways. Even saying something as simple as "no" is a start in being heard.
Arriving Somewhere Late
So, I'm a perpetually late person. Yes, I know it's not the greatest quality, and I've annoyed my very punctual best friend for the past 22 years. However, my daughter would get very upset if we were late to events. At first, I thought it was because she didn't want to miss out, but then I realized the reason runs much deeper than that.
Apparently, introverts like to be early or on time instead of arriving late, and it has nothing to do with punctuality. When we arrive late, my daughter is then forced to jump into an already established social situation. That act can be excruciatingly difficult for an introvert. It's much easier to build a social situation around you, than to have to adapt to one that already exists.
Scheduling Too May Activities
Many kids are over-scheduled these days. I hear it as a teacher all the time. Kids are engaged in so many activities after school, sacrificing any possible downtime in the process.
Well, our household was no different. We wanted to expose our daughter to everything we could. At one point she was doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu, art, dance, and piano. We thought we would throw her into everything and then she can pick whichever activity she likes and stick with that. Well, she liked it all so we kept it all. That was until she started having meltdowns. She stopped trying and did not want to progress. So, I would push her and blame her for lack of participation. Then, one day, it hit me like a brick and knocked the wind out of me. "She's exhausted. She is doing too much and she's breaking down." So, we stopped everything but one activity of her choice. She is much happier.
Forcing Them To Discuss Their Feelings
If something is bothering me, I need to talk about it. I can't rest until I've aired my grievances and discussed every detail, leaving nothing unsaid. Whenever my daughter is upset, I learned that forcing her to discuss her feelings only made her withdraw further. I have to leave her alone until she is ready to talk about it. Sometimes, she never wants to talk about it.
A year ago I bought her a journal because I figured she could use a place to debrief. That has actually worked out well.
Trying To Get Them To "Fit In"
We all want our kids to have friends. Well, maybe not all of us, but probably the majority of us do. What I didn't realize, however, is that an introverted kid living in an extroverted world has his or her own ways of fitting in. My daughter fits in how she wants to, not how I think she should. I used to push her to behave a certain way, because I believe in the social norms of our world. I didn't think I was trying to change her, I thought I was just gently guiding her in the right direction. I was wrong. The world can be exhausting for an introvert and it's better to allow them to find their way on their own terms.
Putting Them On The Spot
When I was 3, I would put on entire performances for my parents' friends. I would orchestrate plays and musicals and recite poetry while standing atop a table. I loved it, which is why I didn't understand when my daughter refused to do the same thing. Her behavior confused me, really.
Whether it's forcing your kid to say "thank you," or asking them to perform in front of an audience, you are making your introverted child uncomfortable. My daughter has a lovely voice and because I am so proud of her, I constantly ask her to sing for people (mainly our family). She outright refuses. I used to get so annoyed with her, but I realized she isn't there for anyone's entertainment. Furthermore, she doesn't want to do it and that is completely fine.
Talking About Them In Front Of Them
I cannot praise my daughter in front of others, nor can I share stories about her in front of others. I've learned this lesson after seeing her reaction when I told a cute story about her to a friend. She heard me and became really upset. Like, irrationally upset, which I could not comprehend.
Sometimes she is OK with me telling a story about her, but she refuses to do it herself. "You tell it, mom," she'll say, and then cringe as I do it, even though she prompted me. I now ask multiple times if it's OK I share something about her with my friend.
Referring To Them As "Shy"
This was an honest mistake. I had just assumed my kid was shy, since I didn't understand her temperament. Then she started referring to herself as shy, and I just went with it. I'm not sure if she called herself shy because she heard me refer to her as such, or if she picked it up from other kids, but she would say she is "shy" any time she didn't feel comfortable adapting to a social norm. Just because my kid doesn't jump in into a crowd of friends doesn't mean she is shy, it just means she is uncomfortable. When I give her space and let her take her time, she eventually jumps in and fosters very close relationships.
The thing is, introverts are really amazing people. They do things on their own terms, they don't crave attention, and they are silent intellectuals. My daughter is incredible and as soon as I started parenting like she needed to be parented, and not like I thought I should parent, she flourished. She no longer looks exhausted because we've forced her into too many after-school activities and into too many social events in one weekend. She doesn't have nearly as many meltdowns. She's now a generally happier kid living on her own social terms. It may have taken me way more time than it should have, but I think I've finally cracked the code. The more I read about introverted kids and adults, the more excited I am to go on this journey with my daughter. I am learning right beside her and I hope one day she forgives me for not realizing I was actually shaming her instead of helping her. I hope she forgives me and I hope I forgive myself. Eventually.