the misunderstood introvert

Article on raising an introverted child.

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My eldest son has a hard time being with people for long periods of time. He gets rather squirrely: acting out, hurting others, grabbing toys. It drives everyone crazy, and I have often found myself trying not to be embarrassed when with friends. As a studious student in everything about him, I have recently realized that he is an introvert.

Introverts NEED alone-time to recharge.

They are typically quieter in social situations because they are processing the conversations inwardly, not audibly. Many introverts have the habit of thinking of what they are going to say before they say it, which we need more of in our world, but also means conversations tend to move on before the introvert can have their say. They like to think, they like to be alone.

But they are not necessarily shy.

In fact, many not-shy introverts are mistaken for extroverts, which is why I didn’t notice this in my son until now. But social situations that go on for hours, or ones where the expectations are not clear, or where there are just too many people…that’s a recipe for disaster for a little boy who needs time alone to recharge.

My sweet son is such a homebody, and is happiest when making a craft, building a puzzle, or playing with Lego on his own. When he doesn’t get this time alone, he acts out. He has been more calm and content during summer holidays than all last year.

He gets distracted a lot, and after many frustrated years, we finally realized what is happening when he is zoned out – he’s thinking! Always creating something in his mind, synthesizing information, or thinking about life, it often looks like he’s not paying attention. Which, let’s be honest, he’s not. But it is not because he doesn’t care, it is because what’s going on in his head is so much more interesting than what’s going on in the world.

‘“Brain imaging studies have shown that when introverts and extroverts respond to external stimulation, introverts have more activity in the regions of the brain that process information, make meaning and problem solve,’ she said. This may explain why introverts need solitude and time to self-reflect in order to analyze ideas and think things through.” (from this page)

Unfortunately, our world isn’t designed for introverts.

School requires kids to be social for 7+ hours a day, and most teachers require and grade participation in class.

Kids that keep to themselves are often described as weird, antisocial, loners, or stuck-up.

Extroverts may see it as their mission in life to bring them out of their shell, when really, their shell is a quite interesting place!

Extroverts make up a greater chunk of society than introverts, so there are many teachers, students, and parents that just won’t understand my son.

But God has a place in his kingdom for introverts.

Many writers, philosophers, artists, and scientists were/are introverted. During my time in ministry it has shocked me to realize how many pastors and church staff are introverted.

“We can say without hesitation that God used, and uses, people of all different temperaments to carry out his mission to the world. God does not seek to conform them to a particular mold but he works within their unique personalities and utilizes their individual gifts both to bless them and to bless others.”

Adam S McHugh in Introverts in the Church: Finding our place in an extroverted culture

I easily identify with my son. I spent the majority of family reunions shut up in a bedroom with a book. I feel most alone in large groups, but rarely feel lonely when alone. I prefer to write my thoughts rather than talk about them. Sunday morning ministry, while enjoyable, usually finds me curled up on the couch afterward. I spent most of my school years completely silent in class. (So much so that my grade 6 teacher once left me behind when she took the class to gym!) In fact, in grade 9 I won an award for top grades in the school, and someone said to me, “I didn’t even know you were smart.” Why didn’t they know it? Because I didn’t talk much.

It’s only in my current job, a place of safety, that I have become the outgoing introvert that most people know.

So I get him, or at least, I’m on the path to understanding him. And that is crucial, because introverts are some of the most misunderstood people in our culture.

“Our families of origin convey to us messages about introversion, which set us on the path of either self-acceptance or self-criticism… ‘Growing up being constantly compared to extroverts can be very damaging. Most introverted children grow up receiving the message both overtly and covertly that something is wrong with them. They feel blamed – why can’t they answer the question faster? And defamed – maybe they aren’t that smart. Forty-nine of the fifty introverts I interviewed felt they had been reproached and maligned for being the way they were.’”

Adam S McHugh

As a parent, it’s my job to make sure my son knows that he was created GOOD. Not to criticize him and force him to be someone who he isn’t, but to allow him space when he needs it, and teach him to share his thoughts when he’s ready.

As a children’s minister, it’s my job to make sure the introverted kids in my ministry are allowed to be themselves. They should be encouraged to speak, but not forced to speak. I need to make sure there is a chance for them to process their God-thoughts on paper, through art, or in ways beyond class discussion.

The same holds true when I lead a women’s Bible study group. I had several very introverted women in my group this year. Because of these lovely ladies, I am learning to ask questions without requiring an answer, to start conversation without prying.

The mind of an introvert is a beautiful, misunderstood thing.

And of course, every introvert is different! On a sliding scale, my husband is much more introverted than I am, so it will be interesting to see how our son’s personality settles over time. I am thrilled to be parenting such a thoughtful, creative little boy. I will have to pray for much wisdom so he knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that God created him GOOD.

How about you? Are you an introvert yourself, or do you find yourself parenting one? I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback! You may also like this post:

Tips for introvert parents

How to be an introvert parent without killing your kids!

5 tips to help develop community

5 ways to enjoy church as an introvert

If you’re looking for some books on the topic, here are some that I am reading.
(these are affiliate links – you don’t pay more but I get a teeny tiny commission!)

1) A bestseller on the topic of introversion: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

2) Introversion in the church:
Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture

3) Regarding introverted children, including ideas to help your child in school and family life: The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child: Helping Your Child Thrive in an Extroverted World