Monday, June 13, 2011

Some Tips For Introverted Parents Raising Extroverted Kids*

Are you an introvert who somehow has managed to give birth to an extrovert? Or two? Parenting—even with all its joys and rewards—can also be unbelievably draining, most especially if you are an introvert with a child whose needs for interaction far exceed your own.

My own family is comprised of three introverts and one lonely extrovert, so it has been a huge shift in education and focus for us to step out of our own preferences and learn to meet that child’s needs. Meeting our introverted child’s needs was clearly a no-brainer, but that extroverted kid—well, he was a different story. It involved a radical internal shift and some extreme self-protection maneuvers.

One of the first things to understand about the extroverted child is that he needs and craves interaction as much as you need and crave solitude. Just as you need solitude to process and think and recharge—your extroverted child needs social interaction to do the very same. That is what his system requires to recharge his batteries and allow him to operate at optimum performance levels. However, to an introvert, the constant chatter as they interpret and process their experiences and thoughts and feelings can feel like an all out assault.

It is important to remember that they are not being overly demanding. At least not by their standards. They will feel drained and overwhelmed if they are kept from being able to socialize and share.

Extroverted children:
  • Are gregarious and outgoing.
  • Love to be around lots of people and other kids.
  • Prefer playing in groups.
  • Do not feel they have fully experienced something until they’ve shared it with others.
  • Talk a lot.
  • Find being alone extremely isolating and difficult.
  • Do not generally enjoy solitary activities.
  • Share. A lot. About everything.
  • Do not really get why anyone might want to be alone.
Being the parents, it falls on us to meet the kid’s needs. But being introverts, we can’t do this effectively unless we replenish our batteries on a regular basis. And clearly our coping strategies will depend on the age of the child: the baby that loves to be held all the time; the toddler who follow you everywhere, a constant stream of toddler-babble; the two year old who seems to be constitutionally unable to let you have two minutes peace, will all require different approaches.

As parents, it is our job to meet their very legitimate needs, but it is also our job to socialize them, and part of that can include learning to respect those who have different needs. Plus, you won’t be able to parent optimally unless you yourself have a chance to collect some energy. By insisting on a small recharging break each day, you may well be a much better, more effective, and certainly saner parent.

Coping Strategies:
  • Be sure your spouse understands and gets the whole introvert/extrovert thing. Their support will be crucial.
  • Create lots of opportunities for your child to interact with others, whether other adults, your extended family, or playgroups.
  • See if you can find another introverted parent who understands your need for solitude and see if you can spell each other for solitude breaks.
  • Do not feel guilty! You are not being selfish in needing this time—it is critical and will make you a much better, more loving, and effective parent.
  • If your spouse is an extrovert, try to let them take up some of the socializing slack. Washing the dishes by yourself might be more rejuvenating than trying to entertain an extrovert for a half an hour before bedtime.
  • Try to find ways to turn other duties/activities into recharging time. Play special music or listen to an especially soothing audiobook on your commute home; choose solitary activities for your exercise time—walking or running or biking rather than working out in a noisy, crowded gym.
  • Do not feel guilty! You are not being selfish in needing this time—it is critical and will make you a much better, more loving, and effective parent.
  • Teach your little extrovert to understand—and respect—others’ need for alone time. Have them do something for just five minutes, and for those five minutes, they cannot interact with you. Help them to build their self-reliance muscle because even though we live in an extroverted world, there will always be times when we have to work alone.
  • Insist on some kind of alone/recharging time every day—whether it is a bath once your spouse is home to take a turn with the kids, or a nap when your kids are napping, or even (horrors!) turning on the television or a DVD for half an hour. Let your housekeeping standards drop a bit and put solitude/recharging time at the top of your list.
  • Do not feel guilty! You are not being selfish in needing this time—it is critical and will make you a much better, more loving and effective parent. (No, this is not a typo--it is just that important to reinforce.)
When my extroverted son was in middle school, he got into online computer games and let me tell you, those were a goldmine! Guilds, leagues, clans, alliances, corporations, agencies, groups, people to talk to—he was able to shift some of his needs for feedback and socializing from his introverted family to his new online community. In fact, this sort of interaction can be critical for extroverted teens who live in small communities or have limited social choices available to them—it’s such a great, positive way for them to reach past their physical boundaries and connect—at that fully engaged, extroverted level—with people with similar interests.

One of the Meyers-Briggs' biggest uses is in companies that want to help their employees work more effectively together. I think understanding each others’ preferences is equally important in families. As parents, we need to help our kids step outside their own experiences and preferences so they can become fully socialized, interactive beings. What better place to begin than in our own homes?

And yes, I realize that is much easier said than done, but that doesn’t make it any less true. And repeat after me: You're not being selfish. You're saving your sanity.

[*Last week when I said I'd talk about what sells middle grade books? I lied. I was out of town for the weekend and just wasn't able to get the post together. So instead, I'm sharing this article that I wrote for GeekMom a few weeks ago. Back to our regularly scheduled programming next week!]


Yat-Yee said...

Yes! You have described my situation with my super extroverted firstborn daughter! The early years were so draining for both of us as I was trying to figure things out as a new parent. She is ten now and I believe we're understanding the other's needs much better.

Recently a friend, very extroverted, complained that her daughter doesn't tell her "anything" and she has to keep pushing just to get some answers. When I told her our situation is the opposite, she said that surely my situation is a lot easier. It was a reminder how different our (introverts and extroverts) needs are and how much effort is necessary for us to build bridges and if not totally understand each other, then at least understand that there are opposite scenarios that feel just the same to the other person.

And the guilt. Wow. Not just the guilt I feel for not being able to help her with her needs as much as I'd like, but also the guilt I think she feels for needing "too much" from me. That is the hardest part; I hate that I might have inadvertently caused that. But I know that she knows at the core that I love her and all of these can be worked out within that secure basis.

YOu can see this is a subject close to my heart.

Steph Burgis said...

I love this post! Thank you.

Ruth Donnelly said...

Terrific post and great advice. The youngest of my 3 kids is the lone extrovert in our family. She's 17, and I couldn't be more proud of her--but she still pushes me out of my comfort zone on a regular basis!

Lisa Yee said...

Excellent post!!!!

R.L. LaFevers said...

Yay, so glad this post was relevant for some! Gawd knows being an introvert affects a lot more than just our desire to market our books. :-)

Yat-Yee, I have the same situation with my extroverted son, so I totally understand! Also, how interesting to hear from the *other* side of parenting. Raising kids is not for wimps, that's for sure.

So glad you liked it, Stephanie! I take it that means Mr. D is a little extrovert?

Ruth, yes on the comfort zone thing! And in some ways, I think that is good--if not exactly comfortable. If nothing else, we are now more flexible introverts. :-)

Thanks, Lisa!

Irene Latham said...

My sister experiences this exact challenge, so I will pass it along! Hubby and I often count it as good fortune that we and 3 sons are an entire family of introverts. We all understand each other and want the same things from vacations, etc... we have other challenges,of course, but introversion is a convenient thing to share.

Gerri L said...

* Great post! Thank you.

Julee J. Adams said...

Thank you--I'm a classic M-B tested introvert and while I've done theater and public speaking, it takes a lot out of me. I don't have children and I wondered how I would react, as I see kids who never meet strangers. Also, love the quote from LeGuin. It's so true and a true literary science fiction convention is sometimes an exercise in awkwardness!

melissadecarlo said...

I had two introverted boys and an amazing extroverted daughter right in the middle. (we're talking cheerleader here...big time extrovert!)
Not only did her personality cause conflicts with DH and I (both happily introverted) but with her brothers as well.
I love your advice, wish I'd had it when the kids were younger. My daughter is 21 now, and a delightful person to have around, but we certainly had our moments!

BTW, DH was out of town this weekend and I'm in that writing place where I'm letting the first draft rest a bit before going back to I decided to use the quiet time to set up a blog. You guys are entirely to blame for this (ha!). It was your series on setting up an online presence that made me decide to do it someday, and this weekend was "someday" I guess. I'm not really putting it "out there" for the most part right now because there's not much of substance on it, but I figure having one and knowing how to mess with it will be helpful should the happy day ever come that I need to really do some "platform building"

Melissa (remember me? reluctant laundress...plant killer...yadda yadda) said...

This isn't only true of parents and children. Similar issues come up in relationships.

I'm introvert, my husband is an extrovert with crippling social phobia. I'm out all day at work in a people oriented job with a long crowded commute; he's home all day, unable to find another job since being made redundant, desperate for human contact but seriously limited by the social phobia.

I come home from work peopled-out, craving quiet time and solitude, he latches onto me as his sole human contact of the day.

It's hard to find a balance that meets both our needs. Mutual respect and recognition our brains are wired different is a good place to start. Thank God for the internet, he can meet some of his contact needs that way.

It's still not easy!

catie james said...

I'd also say to every introverted parent on the planet: Get down on your knees at least once a day and thank God/Goddess/Hashem/Allah/the gods/karma/Mother Nature/plain ol' dumb luck for any/every introverted child in your troupe. :)

R.L. LaFevers said...

Ha! Catie! So, so true.

Autumn, you're right--this e/i stuff is a huge factor in relationships. I'm so sorry about your husband's unemployment coupled with social phobia. That would be such a conundrum for an extrovert!

Melissa, I nodded the entire time reading your comment. Sound very much like my son. I also feel sorry for these poor extroverts sometimes--they must feel like the ugly duckling amongst all us innies! Also, I totally remember the reluctant laundress and plant killer! Congratulations on taking that first step!

Julie--the parenting while an introvert can be such a challenge because it's so ongoing and long term. It just never stops. It is also, of course, enormously rewarding!

Lucky Irene! An entire family of introverts!

And you're welcome Gerry!

Amy said...

This is exactly the article and tips I have been looking for!