Introverted Children - Quiet Treasures
30 August 2017
In the kids’ summer arts camp at the North Carolina Museum of Art where I work, there is always a morning, lunch, and afternoon break in a lovely, large tree-lined area with tables and chairs. Most of the campers only sit down long enough for the time it takes to eat and spend the rest of their break running around chasing each other, letting loose. But just about every week, no matter what age group I am working with, there is a child that uses these break times to sit with me or another adult at a table. I enjoy my time with these children in quiet talks and sometimes just sitting together in silence. I understand the need of these quiet children for a break from the group. Growing up as an introverted child myself, I realize that they are introverts as well.
Quite often, when you hear someone described as an introvert, people see it as a less than positive trait. I remember standing next to my mom at a school meeting when a teacher told her I was an introvert, and mom said, “But she is really a nice girl.” If Mom were alive today, I would be sure to tell her that there are many positive aspects to being reserved and quiet.
Related to the concept of introversion is the belief in the importance of being social. That is, sometimes parents of bashful children worry that their children are not as social as they need to be. But as with all child developmental issues, it is important to accept the children where they are. If you believe that your child may have introspective tendencies, you must cherish this aspect of your child and work with it, not against it.
And it’s important to remember that a child can have some solitary tendencies in some areas and not in others. So, your preschooler may or not be an introvert, but there will be introverts in your child’s world and very possibly in your adult world, too.
Here some ways to understand the quiet ways of your introverted preschooler:
- The reserved child draws energy from within, needing time and space to deal with thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. By contrast, the extroverted child is energized by the outside world. She’s happiest when surrounded by lots of people and plenty of action. School, for instance, is exactly what her system wants. All that activity, stimuli, and chaos makes her feel good. Meanwhile the introverted kid’s battery is draining away as the day goes on.
- Being introspective or solitary doesn’t always mean your child will automatically be shy. Both introverts and extroverts can be shy. Shyness is really more of a social fear or anxiety. Many reserved children actually have great social skills, they're just a bit slower in expressing them than their extroverted friends.
- The way introverted kids socialize best is through one-on-one conversation. Solitary children have lot of fabulous information inside of them, which comes to the surface if you talk to them one-on-one. It’s just amazing all of the stuff they know about, or could tell you about what’s happening in a group, thanks to their keen observation skills. I know it’s that way when I sit and chat with my quiet kids at summer camp.
- Being less verbal does not mean your introverted child is delayed or slow. In my experience as an early childhood teacher, introverts are often smarter than you think. They’re like icebergs, where there is a lot more to be discovered under the surface. Again, taking time to engage with an introverted child one-to-one is a win-win situation for both child and adult.
Here are 9 ways you can connect with and treasure a quiet child:
- Give reserved children time and energy to find their place in a group. They don’t quickly bond in a group setting. Remember, these children do find friends in a group, just not as quickly as extroverted children. Respect their time to do this. Accept it as normal if your preschooler wants to be alone. It's their time to re-charge their batteries. It is counterproductive to try to convince your child to stay with the group.
- Have a private conversation. Introspective children often prefer private conversations. Sensitive teachers and hopefully, most adults, usually recognize this. Take the time to let a teacher or other adults know this about your child. This will be a big help to your preschooler’s transition to reception year or kindergarten.
- Let them watch first. Many introspective children learn by first carefully watching. In Kindergarten, for example, sometimes teachers might think an introverted child is not involved or not paying attention, when really she’s picking up on a lot. Without getting too technical, introverts seem to have more of what we call mirror neurons in their brains, cells that help them absorb the meaning of what they see. (You can learn more about mirror neurons here on Wikipedia.) So, just by watching something they can mirror and learn about it. It helps cautious children in activities when you take time to demonstrate the steps of an activity first, then proceed with it. For example, try our activity, Instant Rainbows with you doing it first, then inviting your little one to make their rainbow next.
- Give them a moment to gather themselves. Children who are reserved generally need preparation time and they get very anxious when they don’t have it. As a Kindergarten teacher, I found that lots of times when introverts can’t think of something, it doesn’t mean they don’t know it. They simply needed more time to get ready for the next activity. Saying, “In a few minutes, we’re going to talk about this ….” really helped them better participate in things. So, when you are getting ready to do something different, or move on to another activity, give your child time to get ready. Tell them in advance what’s to come.
- Provide quiet spaces. Since quiet preschoolers need quiet time to regroup during a busy day, a quiet space to do this is a must for introspective children. Plan to have a large bean bag chair, a soft blanket, or anything else that provides a safe, quiet, separate place for introverts to recharge. When you are checking out potential preschool classrooms, look to be sure that they have these places as well. Go outdoors and try an activity from our Experience Nature collection as another simple way to share quiet time with your child.
- Put a routine in practice. Getting your reclusive child used to routines can help in the transition to primary school or kindergarten. The noise and the constant action of the classroom can be difficult for introverted children. It drains their energy, as can the constant transition from circle time to math groups, then to recess and to reading ... All of those changes can be very hard for introverted kids. It takes energy to adjust to each new activity and its different pace and requirements. Practice at keeping a reliable routine every day to help get your child used to pacing throughout the day. Smoothing transitions in your daily routine is also very helpful in getting used to changes. Verbal warnings before transitions are important for this reason too. Check out my Learning Anywhere, Every Day - Helping At Home blog which has ideas for your daily preparation times.
- Talk with your child's teachers. If your preschooler is getting ready for prep year or kindergarten, it’s important to let your child’s teacher know about this temperament trait. It’s key for a teacher to know so that their curriculum will involve projects that introspective children can work on by themselves. Not everything needs to be done in a group. Our Drawing, Painting and Print Making activities provide so many opportunities for your little one to be creative on their own. Also, my blog, Get Ready for Big School - Parent-Teacher Partnership has more helpful tips for teacher-parent information sharing.
- Prepare them to be assertive. Practice with your preschooler ways to speak up in clear and simple sentences. This is especially important in getting ready for Kindergarten or prep year. It’s important to actually practice, so that if they do have something that they want to be heard, they can lean forward, look people in the eyes, and say it in a firm way. And if no one is listening, introverted children must learn to say, “Excuse me, I wasn’t finished.” You know, blow their own horn a little bit. It’ll be difficult, but they can practice doing that and get better at it. Because the majority of children in a classroom are extroverts and move easily on to other things, it’s important that introverts are able to speak up for themselves when they’re not quite ready. Make good use of our Chatty-do activities to practice their language skills in fun ways.
- Share their quiet experiences. Talk with your child about their unique qualities and differences. Have a conversation with your child where you ask, “Is it easy for you to go to a friend’s party?” And share your own experiences. It means so much for you to admit, “You know, sometimes I feel kind like I don’t want to join in the group as well. Sometimes I want to do my own thing.” It can mean a lot for your introvert to hear this, to connect with you and know they're not alone.
In addition to this blog about introversion in young children, my blog, The Promise of your Child’s Early Development - Make the Most of It has more information that can help you understand your child’s overall pattern of development, whether she’s an introvert or not. I’d love to hear your comments on both!