While not as obvious as an inny or outy belly button, a child’s preferences for introversion or extraversion is probably the most easily observed of the personality preferences…unfortunately, it’s also the least understood. Society tends to reduce introversion and extraversion to mean “shy” or “talkative” which is an inadequate explanation. Introversion and extraversion defines where we get our energy. While everyone needs time both alone and with others, the difference between introversion and extraversion is how much time is needed alone or how much time is needed with others to re-energize. The questions parents need to ask themselves (and ask their children when they are old enough to understand) is which mode represents the best environment for your child to engage in a natural way. Here are some of the key differences between introverted and extraverted children.
- Prefer to think things through before speaking
- Prefer to wait and watch before getting involved
- More concerned about how others affect them
- Like to concentrate on one person or thing at a time
- More thoughtful, private and reserved
- Are life’s specialist – they are selective about activities that they engage in and pursue their interest at a higher level
- Are energized by introspection
- As a rule if you don’t know what an introvert is thinking, you probably didn’t ask or wait long enough for him to tell you!
- Prefer to think out loud, often forming their thoughts and opinions by talking them through out loud
- Jump without hesitating into social situations
- More concerned about how they affect others
- Like variety and action
- Are life’s generalist – more likely to express interest and want to pursue a broad range of activities
- More expressive and enthusiastic
- Energized by interaction
- As a rule, if you don’t know what an extravert is thinking, you haven’t been listening!
Neither preferences is right or wrong. However, our social conventions can be so rigid that they don’t allow for a child’s natural preferences. So as parents we can become embarrassed or have misguided concerns about our child’s interactions. These misguided concerns can lead us to push our kids in ways that are unnatural for them. This leaves the child feeling like there must be something wrong with them.
We are a society that bombards our children with stimulus. Introverted children, consequently, respond to this bombardment by withdrawing, needing time alone to process their experiences. Extraverted children can become over stimulated, needing people to talk to as a way or sorting through the experience.
As a society there is a cultural preference for extraversion, despite the fact that the American population is evenly split, 50% extraverts, 50% introverts. But because extraverts talk more and in general are louder, it is hard for introverts to be heard. Extraverts tend to set the standards, resulting in an unfair and untrue bias that introverts are somehow lacking.
As parents we need to be willing to observe our children and identify which mode, whether it is interaction with others or introspection with self, is most natural for our children. We want to honor and respect their natural preference for engaging with their world.