Linda Silverman, director of the Gifted Development Center in Denver and author of Upside-Down Brilliance, says extroverts get energy primarily from others, while introverts can become overloaded or drained by the outside world.
It’s different from shyness, which can be a debilitating discomfort around others, often despite a strong desire to be more social.
There is greater understanding of introverts, and their talents, now than there was several years ago. Even with all the internet memes celebrating introversion, though, we still live in a culture that champions outgoing leadership, vocal collaboration and visible performance. That can make it tough for introverts to fit in.
Silverman encourages parents of introverts to embrace their child’s strengths. Research shows introverts are less impulsive and better able to avoid risks, and are often more creative and get better marks than extroverts, she adds. Some research shows that they have better relationships.
Here are suggestions, from Silverman and other experts, on how parents can help their introverts thrive.
Nudge, but be patient
Accepting your child’s introversion doesn’t mean you shouldn’t gently push them to expand their comfort zone.
Silverman says parents who pay attention will “intuitively understand when and how to encourage their children to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zone”.
Give your child safe places to try being more outgoing, and allow them to get comfortable with it. Encourage them carefully.
Help them find a niche
Susan Cain, author of Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts, suggests parents should help introverts find activities they enjoy and are successful at, even if they seem to contradict the child’s quiet nature. Provide options and encourage.
Carefully plan encounters
Allow them to join activities slowly or stay on the outskirts and plan for a break if they get overwhelmed.
“Escapes and back-up plans are essential so the child doesn’t feel trapped,” said Silverman.
Build in structure
At home, give your introverted child quiet time. Introverts, warns Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert’s Way, can get lost in a book or a movie, so structure is important. She notes, however, that “a completely unstructured day once a week might be very good, too, for an introverted kid”.
Some research shows that introverts benefit from mindfulness and relaxation techniques more than extroverts because their brains are more easily aroused, which causes them to avoid stimulation and feel better when they calm it down, according to Peter O’Connor, a professor at Queensland University of Technology. He recommends yoga, simple breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation exercises.