Every person arrives in this world with a basic temperament that is unlikely to change much throughout life.
Interests, activities, habits and behaviours can change and be taught, but generally, a social extroverted child will remain a social and extroverted adult and a shy, introverted child will remain that way as an adult too.
In many ways, we have our society set up for extroverts. We value external accomplishments, assertiveness and confidence over quiet reflection or careful decision-making. We tend to reward people who stand out because of their volume and we emphasize group activities from a very young age.
Yet a large portion of the population are introverts who thrive in a different environment. It can be very difficult for introverted children to navigate our school system where they spend the majority of every day in a group of 20 or 30 peers. Though their temperament is perfectly normal and gives them numerous strengths, these can get lost in the noise of an extroverted world.
As children, introverts tend to have a rich inner life. They enjoy imaginative play and solitary activities like reading or drawing. If they’re not playing alone, they prefer to play with one or two friends rather than a crowd.
Introverts tend to observe new situations or activities before jumping in. They can appear cautious or hesitant but will often enjoy the activity once they’ve had a chance to warm up. Allowing children the space to observe first can avoid a lot of anxiety.
Parents of introverts are in luck – peer pressure is not as big an issue for these children as it can be for extroverts. Introverts tend to make decisions based on their own values and don’t feel the pull to follow the crowd.
Once their comfortable with a person, introverts tend to be excellent conversationalists who are genuinely interested in truly connecting with the other. They are generally good listeners however may speak softly or stop if interrupted.
Introverted children are also interested in engaging with the deeper aspects of life. They enjoy questioning the world and are also likely to reflect on their own behaviour.
At any age, introverts need time alone to recharge. They will feel drained after spending all day in a group. Children see quickly that extroverted qualities seem to be emphasized in our society. This can lead them to feel lonely or isolated or that they are abnormal. Parents of introverts need to teach them their temperament is perfectly normal and has many positive traits associated with it. If given the space and time they need, introverted children grown into successful adults contributing much to the world.
Paul Latimer is a psychiatrist and president of Okanagan Clinical Trials. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org