Raising an Introverted Child: Tips for Parents

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Quiet: The Power of Introverts" by Susan Cain. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Is it easier or harder for parents whose children are introverts? What are some tips for raising an introverted child?

Raising an introverted child may be more challenging for some parents, especially if the parents are extroverted. It can be tempting to try to and encourage the child to change, but it’s important to cultivate the strengths of introverts and help them navigate challenges.

Keep reading for more advice about raising an introverted child.

The Challenges of Raising an Introverted Child

Introverted children face unique challenges at home and at school, where parents and teachers try to get them to act like their extroverted peers.

Parents may try to change introverted children—for instance, an extroverted parent may push a quiet child to play team sports or have a lot of friends. Whether they’re extroverted or introverted themselves, parents may fear raising an introverted child that won’t be able to function in society without changing. When a parent wants to change a child, it’s a bad parent-child fit, according to one psychologist. However, both introverted and extroverted parents can be a good fit for an introverted child by being accepting and learning to see the world from the child’s perspective.

For instance, Joyce’s seven-year-old daughter, Isabel, was sensitive, empathetic, and easily overwhelmed. Isabel didn’t want her mother arranging activities for her after school because, as an introvert, she was tired after her school day and wanted to be alone or with only her mother. Until Joyce understood introversion, she thought something was wrong with Isabel. Then she changed the way she parented, following her daughter’s lead when Isabel wanted downtime and helping her come up with strategies for handling relationships and speaking up at school. Instead of trying to change Isabel, Joyce values her uniqueness.

Introverted parents also face pitfalls in raising an introverted child. Sometimes their own painful past experiences can get in the way of parenting. They may feel responsible for passing on the “burden of shyness” to their children and try to protect them. Again, it’s important for parents to accept children as individuals and see things through their eyes, not relive their own childhoods.

Reaction to Novelty

Besides being accepting, another key way to help an introverted child is to help him adjust to new people and things

Remember that he’s not afraid of people or being anti-social. He’s showing an introvert’s natural reaction to newness (caution) or overstimulation (withdrawing). Accept that it’s his style to be cautious and examine a situation before getting involved. Gradually expose him to new situations and people, while respecting his limits even when they seem over the top. Unlike overprotection or pushing too hard, this approach boosts his confidence. When a child takes risks, commend his efforts. Eventually, he’ll see the rewards of persevering through discomfort and will learn to moderate his tendency toward caution.

Never shame a child for being shy. Be a role model for how to meet new people by being calm and friendly when greeting strangers. Introduce her to new social situations gradually. Discuss them beforehand and walk through them if possible—for instance, by walking a child through a new school when it’s not busy,

Raising an introverted child is also about teaching her strategies for handling uncomfortable moments—for instance, how to look confident when you don’t feel that way by smiling, standing up straight, and making eye contact.

Thriving at School

Remember that schools are typically designed for extroverts, emphasizing group activities and participation. There’s nothing superior about teaching this way—it’s a result of society’s bias toward the extrovert ideal. However, it’s unnatural for introverts, who prefer to work independently and socialize one-on-one. The school environment saps their energy rather than channeling it.

As adults, we get to choose the occupations, people, and environments we’re comfortable and thrive in—psychologists refer to this as finding the right “person-environment fit.” But with one-size-fits-all education, kids don’t get to choose environments conducive to their learning styles and personalities. They can’t learn when they feel stressed.

Here are some ways teachers can help:

  • Don’t think of introversion as a problem that needs to be fixed. Help an introverted child learn social skills, while being accepting of her different learning style.
  • Balance your teaching methods to accommodate both extroverts and introverts (remember, a third to a half of people are introverts). Alternate group activities with lectures and independent projects.
  • When introverted children show passions or strong interests, encourage them and help find others who share their interests.
  • Manage group activities so each child knows her role and each gets a chance to participate. Also, teach all children to work independently.
  • Don’t put quiet children in high-traffic areas that stress them and make it harder for them to concentrate. Facilitate, don’t force their participation.

If you can choose your child’s school, look for a school that:

  • Values independence, kindness, and empathy
  • Mixes group activities with independent projects
  • Has small, quiet, orderly classes
  • Has teachers that understand introversion/sensitivity
  • Enforces anti-bullying policies
  • Attracts kids with interests like your child’s

Additional Tips for Parents Raising an Introverted Child

  • Figure out what subjects and activities energize your child the most and encourage them; let him take the lead in picking activities he likes best.
  • Teach him how to find a comfortable role in a group and help him practice speaking up.
  • Help him role-play how to behave in various situations.
  • Be nonjudgmental.
  • Don’t worry if your introverted child isn’t highly popular.
  • Encourage your child’s passions—intense engagement in a passion is one of the surest paths to a satisfying life.

The most important thing when raising an introverted child, or any child, is to remind them that who they are is great. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, be true to yourself. In addition, if you’re an introvert:

  • Don’t worry about socializing with everyone—value quality relationships over quantity.
  • Use your strengths of persistence, focus, and insight to do work you value and love.
  • Figure out what you’re meant to do and make sure you do it, even if you have to stretch. 
  • Create restorative niches.
  • Respect your own and your loved ones’ needs.
  • Spend your free time as you like, not as others expect.

Remember that there are many different kinds of powers. The heroes and heroines of myths and fairy tales discovered and used the power granted to them. Like Alice in Wonderland, introverts are granted keys that can unlock unique worlds and adventures.

Raising an Introverted Child: Tips for Parents

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Here's what you'll find in our full Quiet: The Power of Introverts summary:

  • How society overvalues extroverts
  • Why introverts' overlooked strengths are the key to greater success in work, school, and society
  • How extroversion caused the fall of Enron

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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