By definition, I am an extrovert. I get energy through interactions with other people and outside stimulus. My husband is the complete opposite. If we go out to a party on Saturday night, he will spend Sunday just lounging around the house, watching TV and taking naps. He needs to recharge alone and have minimal interactions with others. It’s not because he is being rude or because he is angry with me. It took me a long time to realize this and then to be okay with it.
My 5-year-old son is the same as my husband – an introvert. In the last few years as his friends started to do activities around town like t-ball and soccer, and learn new skills that involve some risk like swimming and ice skating, my son was resistant. At soccer he never actually kicked a ball, but rather, sat on the sidelines eating goldfish. However, he always said that he couldn’t wait to go back the next week. “What?!” I thought,“But he didn’t even touch the ball!” In fact, he was having a good time just taking it all in and it was too much for him to actually try to play at the time.
Swimming and ice skating both presented new sensory inputs as well as new safety concerns for my Nervous Nelly. “Just jump in!” “Look at so-and-so swimming!” “You’ll be the only one not skating.” No matter what I said, he needed to do things on his terms. Once he made a connection with his swim teacher, he was able to loosen up enough to get in the water and just feel what it’s like to swim. With skating, we went over winter break on a Monday at noon. We were the first ones there. He loved it. No pressure to perform or keep up with the other kids. Once he was on the ice, he was alright. And eventually, he even learned to like it. He just needed to do it at his own pace, and one on one. Then the key becomes keeping up with it. We went swimming every day that we could this past summer, and we plan to go skating a lot this winter.
My introverted son needed a break after each of his swim lessons or skating lessons. I was ready to tell the whole world about his wonderful experiences, but every time I would suggest calling Daddy or Grandma to tell them, he would say, “No, mom. Not now please!” Then later after time had passed, he would tell everyone with a proud smile on his face.
Being an introverted kid is often seen as being rude or shy in many circumstances. They need to have time alone to recharge, and when they ask for it, other kids may have their feelings hurt. They might have teachers or parents telling them to share or play with a friend when they truly just need time alone. Introverted kids are often observers before they are doers. My son is still working on eye contact and hand shakes when he greets people. That is a difficult thing for him to do. Not because he is shy or rude, but because he takes a while to come around to people. Introverts also often keep their thoughts or feelings to themselves until they can find the time and space to process them properly. They are often thinking about things that happened a long time ago (days ago!) or things that seemed insignificant to others when they happened.
In today’s world of oversharing on social media and kids starting team sports at age three, introverted kids may face challenges in their need to process information a little slower and take time alone in order to ramp up for the next social interaction. As a mom and a teacher, it’s important for me to take the time to get to know all of my kids and students and remember that each child is unique.
Are you an introvert or extrovert? How about your kids? Is it a challenge for you to meet their needs because of their personality?