Raising and Homeschooling an Introvert
Living in a culture that places such tremendous value on extroversion can make raising an introverted child a challenge. From the moment your child holds his head up, people decide whether they adore him, or not, based on how positive a reaction they receive from him. If your wee one loves to be picked up by every stranger and smiles at every new face, everyone adores him and labels him lovely, or pleasant, or easy. However, if your child clings to you, or feels quiet and watchful with new faces, and takes time to warm up to new people, you might find that people are not quite as adoring.
It is interesting that people still haven’t accepted or adapted to introverts, considering they make up an estimated 49% of the United States population. In addition to that, some of the greatest minds were those of introverts, such as Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Sir Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, and Eleanor Roosevelt, not to mention a long list of some of the world’s greatest writers.
Why then, do people find it so hard to accept introversion? There are many thoughts on this, one being that cultures have an accepted personality and norm, and our culture’s is extroversion with an emphasis on outer achievement. Introverts, being deeply involved with their inner lives and inner development, are at odds with that cultural norm. Another theory is that people become uncomfortable when they don’t receive the expected form of interaction, such as small talk from adults (which introverts typically react to like nails on a chalkboard) or chatter and smiles from a child from the very first introduction (which introverted children rarely do as they need time to warm up to new people).
I could definitely write an entire post questioning why introverts are undervalued, however, the purpose of this article is to explore ways to understand and empower our introverted children, and allow them the space to fully embrace their temperament and thrive as introverts.
In order to understand introverts, we must first clear up a few misunderstandings. The first and most common being that introverts are anti-social. This is far from the truth. In fact, my daughter, who is very much an introvert, would love to have a friend over every single day if she could. And as an introvert myself, I love my time with my close friends. The difference socially is that introverts prefer a few very close friends to many acquaintances, and we prefer one on one social time, as opposed to socializing as a group. In fact, group social time is something that many introverts avoid, mainly because introverts love to go deep into conversation rather than engaging in small talk, and partly because large groups simply feel exhausting to introverts.
The truth of the matter is what truly defines an introvert is how that person receives her energy, or rather, rejuvenates. While an extrovert gets energized by being with people, by going out, by interacting, an introvert receives her energy by going in, through quiet time, and through her internal life. She may go out and socialize often, possibly even daily, but even if she completely enjoys her time with friends, she will often leave feeling drained, and need to rejuvenate through quiet time. Introverts tend to have very rich internal lives, whereas extroverts tend to have very full external lives. In addition, introverts are very comfortable with alone time, whereas too much alone time for an extrovert can lead to boredom and even extreme loneliness. So now that we have discussed introversion at length, I would like to share a few things that I have learned while raising and homeschooling an introverted child.
Don’t push or pressure your child to play in a large group:
If your child does not enjoy playing in large playgroups, please don’t pressure him to do so. Introverts typically do not enjoy large group gatherings, and introverted children will always prefer to lose themselves in imaginative play with one other child, rather than many. Young introverts will often feel hesitant to jump into play with a large group of children and prefer to watch quietly or find another watching child to run off with. Please allow your child the space to do this. I remember the pressure I felt, from within, to “encourage” my daughter to play in a large group. By constantly “encouraging” (which often translates to pressuring) our children to adapt to large groups, we are conveying to them, unintentionally or not, that extroversion is acceptable and commendable, while their approach to life, introversion, is not.
After becoming aware of my daughters introverted nature, I changed my approach to group social time. I stopped scheduling regular large group gatherings, and instead we engaged in just a few per year. I stopped “over encouraging” her to join in with others, and instead allowed her to have her space. We scheduled lots of one on one play dates with her close friends. We had regular talks about her feelings about group settings, so she could also understand and process how the experience was for her. As she got a bit older, I explained to her that I completely understood that she didn’t prefer to be in large groups, but that it is a skill that I would like her to learn over time. Therefore, if she needs to work in a group at some point in her life, either in college or career, she will have the skill. She understood completely.
I chose to allow her to grow and stretch at her own pace. This last year I began inviting small groups over every now and then, and low and behold, she played fantastically with everyone. Sometimes she had to take a few moments of quiet to regain equilibrium, which as an introvert I understand, but then she jumped right back in and engaged. She would never choose to play in a group, and that is completely fine, but she is slowly, over time, growing comfortable with groups when they are necessary. The most important thing I learned from this is the value of allowing children to grow at their own pace.
“If you’re an introvert, you also know that the bias against quiet can cause deep psychic pain. As a child you might have overheard your parents apologize for your shyness. Or at school you might have been prodded to come “out of your shell”— that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and some humans are just the same.”
Teach your child how to care for herself as an introvert:
If you can teach your child, at a young age, to be aware of her needs as an introvert, you will give her a gift that will serve her for all of her life. When my daughter was a toddler, after long and large gatherings of family and friends, she would inevitably have a cry down. These weren’t tantrums. In fact my daughter almost never had a tantrum. They were simply cry downs. I realized this came from a place of overwhelm and overstimulation, and so I explained to her that whenever she needed to, she could always go into her room and have quiet time, even if we had guests over. From that day on, she never had a cry down after a long and large gathering, and friends and family found it adorable to hear her politely say, “I’m having alone time,” when they peeked in her room to say “hi”.
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”Aristotle
Alternate teaching with independent work:
This one is so important and really makes me recognize the value of homeschooling introverted children. I realized that I needed to do this after too many experiences trying to work with my daughter on a few subjects in a row, and watching her space out after the second. What I realized was going on wasn’t a lack of focus, nor was it misbehavior. She had simply reached her limit of interaction and needed to go inside. To remedy this, I now always alternate teaching sessions with independent work. For example, for grammar and writing I need to sit with her and teach her the day’s lessons. Afterward, she works on her botany curriculum, which is done entirely independently. This allows her some quiet time within her homeschooling day, which gives her the energy to focus through all of our subjects.
Don’t rush to sign up your introvert for every class and activity:
You may currently feel pressure to sign your introverted child up for every activity available, as that is what so many families are currently doing, but please refrain. In my personal opinion, this fad of over scheduling children can’t be healthy for any child, but it can be especially unhealthy for an introverted child. A fundamental need of an introvert is down time to unwind, to go inward, and to be creative. Over scheduling an introvert will not only exhaust him beyond belief, but it can also rob him of the time he treasures most, during which his ideas come alive, his thoughts take over, and he truly revives.
Do get your child involved in things that bolster confidence:
Find activities that your child will love, that will inspire him, that will help him gain confidence, and sign him up for those. My daughter absolutely loves animals and wildlife, so I signed her up for 4-H. The amount of confidence she gained through only one year of 4-H is astonishing. At the beginning of last year, she believed she would never stand up in front of people, such as on a stage. Half way through the year of 4-H activities and projects, she made the decision to take part in the 4-H Presentation Day. She researched giant pandas, created her board, and practiced her presentation every day. And when the day arrived, she did fantastically well, felt fantastic about herself, and left with a gold medal! This year she is going to lead a rabbit project, meaning she will be teaching the children about rabbits.
She also started Irish dance last year, something she fell in love with and really wanted to learn. Because of her love for Irish dance, she decided to take part in the recital and was given two solo dances. I went to the recital not knowing if she would take one look at the stage and leave, and I was completely open to that possibility. But she got up there, performed her dances, and left with more confidence then she came with.
After only one year of being involved with these two activities, 4-H and Irish Dance, she gained tremendous confidence. I strongly believe that part of that confidence stems from the fact that she chose those activities herself, and her drive to step out of her comfort zone came from within, rather than pressure from outside of herself.
Treasure your introverted child:
You may worry sometimes that your little introvert isn’t being social enough, or that she doesn’t blend as naturally in a large group as do others, but your child has other gifts. She has a world within herself that is magical, and she has the super power of being completely content with herself. In an age when everyone is seeking distraction and escape, your child can be completely content within herself, her thoughts, and her creative world. This is a tremendous gift. Treasure your child and know that with your acceptance and support, she will find her way through this world and be successful and dynamic – in her own thoughtful and quiet way.