My friend’s daughter started kindergarten a week ago, and yesterday he sent me a concerned message.
Him: My kid is social and fun and outgoing, but I worry that when she gets in these classes and clubs she just sits there and isn’t making any friends or whatever. In her preschool, the two teachers loved her and every kid knew her by name and she knew all of them. This is kindergarten now. I am assuming eventually she will get to know the other kids and everything will be fine. Right?
Me: Yeah. She’ll see them every day in school.
Turns out his daughter was sitting on the side of the classroom by herself, coloring or doing whatever during a time of free play. After a bit of dancing around the issue, we arrived at this question.
Him: If for whatever reason my kid does turn out to be some wallflower who sits in the corner, does the teacher make some kind of effort to get the other kids to play with her?
Me: Maybe. Depends on the teacher. I don’t because that’s really uncomfortable for introverted kids.
And then it hit me: he, a giant extrovert, truly can’t imagine someone choosing not to interact with others, when given the opportunity.
Before we dig into this, let’s get some definitions out of the way so we’re all on the same page. Extroverts are energized by people. They are the social butterflies. Introverts are the opposite. Instead of gaining energy from others, they expend it. It’s almost like a direct energy transfer occurs from introverts to extroverts when they’re together in a social situation (like a party). Also, extroversion/introversion is a spectrum. Someone can be extroverted but have introverted characteristics, and vice versa (which may be the case with my friend’s daughter. I don’t think she’s an introvert, based on what I’ve seen, but her personality is still developing).
I am extremely introverted. On the Myers-Briggs personality assessment, I was waaaaaaay on the introverted side of the spectrum. My friend asked me his question because I’m a teacher, but I see it as a convenient coincidence that I’m also an introvert. Because I get the wallflower kids.
We introverts are outnumbered. I’ve seen different statistics, but suffice it to say the majority of the population is extroverted. Because of that, and because extroverts tend to be stronger personalities, we aren’t always understood by the majority. I believe this situation is worse for kids, because friendship and socializing are highly valued (by the adults. The kids don’t seem to care if one of their own likes to play alone.)
Now, I’m not a psychologist. I am in my fourteenth year of teaching elementary-aged kids, and I achieved adulthood without too many extroverts trying to reprogram me. So I present the following advice based on my actual life experience.
Remember how introverts expend energy in social situations? Introverts need time alone to recharge after socializing. They need to be inside their own heads and doing their own thing, or they will wear out and get grouchy. My mom has turned the word into a verb for when I get this way – are you introverting already?
School is one long social situation. There are group projects and pair shares and recess and P.E. and… you get the idea. My oldest son is also introverted – he may be as introverted as I am. In kindergarten, I got a call from his teacher. She was very concerned that he’d often play alone and didn’t seem to have any friends. After school, he’d rush off to his bedroom to play with Legos. He needed that time alone to recharge. Kindergarten was a big jump in the amount of socialization required. Not allowing him his alone time stressed him out.
If you try to force an introverted kid to socialize, especially one that needs to be introverting for a while, they’ll start to think something’s wrong with them, adding to the stress.
Kids make friends on their own. Even the introverted ones do. I still talk to the friends I had in elementary school – all three of them. Parents may not hear about these friends, because by the time school’s over, the kid is done talking to people. Even parents. Don’t take it personally.
My oldest is in fifth grade now, and he’s just started making friends with kids in the neighborhood. Before now, I never stressed that he might be a loner or a loser or whatever. He wasn’t interested in sleepovers, and birthday parties required significant down time at either end. He was happy seeing people at school, and that was enough.
I’ve made sure he understands how his mind works. If he’s with his friends and gets short-tempered, that probably means he needs a break.
I leave you with a final message I left for my friend: Kids figure it out. They NEED to figure it out. This is how they start to make sense of the world.
Side note: This post is solely about introverted children. I’m not talking about situations where a kid is bullied or wants friends but genuinely struggles to make them. Those cases may require intervention from a parent or counselor to work through separate issues.
What have been your experiences with introverted children? Were you one, or are you raising one?