Is your child more sociable at home than in the outside world? Do they prefer to interact with family and close friends than others? They may be an introvert.
“By itself, introversion is not a problem,” explained Emily Mudd, a pediatric psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Pediatric Behavioral Health.
This kind of temperament “is a genetically inherited trait, and there is nothing to change or be ashamed of,” she told Newsweek.
It is estimated that 75 percent of individuals can be categorized as extroverts, according to the Center for Parenting Education nonprofit.
“More often than not, their qualities are valued more than those of introverts,” states the center’s website, so extroverts “receive more positive reinforcement from those around them.” This can leave introverted personalities feeling out of place and needing additional coping skills to “help them feel good about who they are.”
Here, experts explain how to tell if your son or daughter is an introvert—and offer parenting tips for raising an introverted child.
What Is an Introvert?
The most common definition of an introvert is “a person is fatigued by socialization,” said Mudd. They may require more quiet or downtime to recharge their energy.
Dr. Arthur Lavin, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital, told Newsweek that being an introvert or extrovert simply describes “a person’s preferences for [their] time of relaxation, rest and recovery of energy”—which is “very different from the question of being shy.”
An introvert is someone who finds rest, relaxation and recovery in “settings with fewer people around and even alone,” he said.
What Is the Difference Between Introverts and Extroverts?
Extroverts recharge their energy by socializing. Lavin described an extrovert as “someone whose preference for feeling relaxed, re-energized and rested is to be in the company of other people, sometimes even many.”
Mudd pointed out that that introversion and extroversion are on a spectrum. While some identify themselves as being on one end or the other, “most people tend to fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, depending on the circumstance.”
What Are the Signs of an Introvert?
A key indicator that a person is an introvert is that they seek “time alone or with a few very, very close people when they want to relax,” said Lavin, who is also chair of the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health at the American Academy of Pediatrics.
A common misconception is that introverts do not enjoy socializing, “which is not necessarily true,” according to Mudd.
She explained that introverted people might:
- Enjoy spending time alone
- Work more effectively and/or feel most creative alone, rather than in groups
- Be less likely to be assertive in group social situations
- Greatly appreciate close, meaningful relationships.
How to Know If Your Child Is an Introvert
Mudd said introverted children might:
- Prefer to interact with family or close friends than in larger social situations
- Be more socially active at home—being silly, dancing, talking or joking—and more reserved in public.
- Not “follow the crowd” when they are adolescents, making decisions based on their own likes and interests, rather than what is “popular”
- Be self-conscious and self-reflective.
An 2020 study by researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health and the University of Maryland suggested that “an inhibited temperament in infancy predicts a reserved, introverted personality as an adult.”
How to Raise and Help an Introvert Child
Below are Mudd and Lavin’s tips for raising an introverted child.
Nourish Your Child’s Introversion
“Optimal parenting” is when a parent is “aware of their child’s personality preference and supports their choices to pursue those preferences,” according to Lavin.
If your child’s preferences are “solidly towards resting alone or with a very few, very close friends,” Lavin said the key is to recognize that “this is who they are, this is what they enjoy, this is what gives them rest and allows them to re-energize.
“All a parent has to do at that point is let them do so.”
For example, instead of telling your child to “just get over it” and join a busy family gathering, sit with them while they observe for a few minutes and “validate that it may be an overwhelming environment,” Mudd suggested.
Celebrate Your Child’s Temperament
Introverted children are often empathic, thoughtful and focused, among other positive traits, Mudd pointed out.
Don’t Shame or Belittle Your Child for Their Introversion
It’s important not to describe your child as shy. This often has negative connotations and “labels your child as who they are, rather than stating a behavior,” Mudd said.
Instead of saying “He is just shy” to a family member or friend, aim to say something along the lines of “He is assessing the situation right now and he’ll jump in when he is ready,” she suggested.
Don’t Force Social Interactions
Kids who are introverts may not enjoy interacting in large groups. Bear this in mind when planning birthday parties, holiday gatherings or other social events, Mudd said.
Don’t Over-Schedule Your Child
Leave plenty of room for downtime and relaxing without social interaction, Mudd advised.
“The major error” made by some parents is to try to fit a child into “some imaginary average metric of the right number of friends or social engagements,” Lavin said.
You can encourage your kids to play, sign up for activities and more, but “leave it up to them to decide how much of such activity is enjoyable for them.”
Take Things Slowly
Mudd recommends introducing your child to new social situations slowly and praising them for taking social risks.
Speak to your child’s teachers about their personality so they are able to nourish it in the school environment, she added.