When I was a child, my father was in a transferable job. And every time I moved cities or schools, I remember standing on the side watching the other kids at the playground, hesitant to join them. Sometimes it would take days, weeks or even a month before I joined the group. Though I wasn’t playing, I’d be silently participating from the sides. I would smile as they giggled over some joke or pass the ball if it came in my direction. It was akin to dipping my toes in the water to test the temperature. Eventually, someone in the group would notice me standing there and invite me to join them.
Even today, it takes me a while to start a conversation with a stranger. I still find myself scanning a room for someone who seems kind and friendly. I find myself observing the room to get a sense of it before participating. I’m not hugely fond of loud places, hated clubs even as a teenager. I prefer quieter settings where I can hear the thoughts in my head. I’m a quintessential introvert with some extrovert traits. And now as a parent, I’m raising children with dominant extrovert and introvert traits.
When children start schooling, their innate personalities emerge and sometimes, it may seem to be in variance with what you might have observed at home. A boisterous child at home may suddenly be quieter in school. You discover that your child’s personality may be more introverted than you realised. Or your quiet child may suddenly thrive in a school environment and come home with a million stories about her friends and life at school. While I don’t recommend labelling or slotting your child into either category, I have found it useful to understand their natural dispositions and provide support as and when necessary.
Large social gatherings
My older son is an extrovert. He thrives on social interactions. Even as a baby, he would happily go to anybody who smiled at him. He can chat up a storm with anybody and everybody. He loves loud places and large gatherings. This made it easy to take him to social functions like a wedding or a birthday party.
My younger son, on the other hand, hates loud social gatherings. If it was a birthday party invite, I gave him the option to decline. I respected his decision not to hold a large party and instead invite a few of his close friends over. At a wedding, we would find a quiet corner where he could sit and watch the crowd from afar. I would encourage him to carry a toy in his hand that he could quietly play with by himself. The toy would help him feel grounded in large, social settings.
My older son had no problems making friends in school. He would come home with a phone number of some child’s mother scribbled on a piece of paper, insisting that I call as her son had invited him home. The introvert in me, who resisted making phone calls to strangers to send my child over to their place, came up with an alternate strategy instead. I made him memorise my phone number and happily distribute it to whoever he wanted. So, they called me to schedule the playdate which I happily hosted at my place.
My younger son would take forever to make a friend, who would then become the best friend he would want to meet every day. I did not force him to have more than a couple of friends or invite new friends over. He had enough social interactions in school and if he chose to spend his free time with only one or two people, that was his choice to make. He did not need the extensive social circle that his brother had.
At the beginning of the school year, I would make it a point to speak with the teachers about the children. My older son had a tendency to get into trouble at school as he would want to talk and laugh with the kids and it wasn’t always at an appropriate time, serving as a distraction to the class. By discussing it with the teacher, she could be aware of it and direct his extra energies towards the benefit of the class. My younger son, on the other hand, would hesitate to speak up in class and participate in classroom discussions. By discussing it with the teacher, she would ensure that she gave him time to formulate his answers and gently encourage him to speak his mind.
An extrovert dislikes working on his own. My older son needed me to be around when he had a task to do. His energy dipped if he was left by himself. During homework time, I would be in the same room busying myself with some other task while encouraging him to complete his work. It helped give him the attention he needed but also empowered him to work independently.
My younger son loves to work by himself. He requires a quiet corner in which to gather his thoughts and play by himself. He needs quiet time on a daily basis without which he gets highly strung and unable to manage his emotions.
Your extroverted child will need your support to learn how to participate in conversations. They need guidance in learning to listen to another person’s point of view and taking turns. If they talk incessantly, it’s because they are processing their own thoughts while talking. They aren’t just rambling. Your introverted child will need for you to be patient while he frames his thoughts. Give him time and space to mull over the question and come up with his answer. During discussions at home, we find ourselves having to remind one to listen to what the other person has to say and encouraging the other to wait patiently while the first finishes what he’s saying.
Whether your child is an extrovert or an introvert, your role as a parent is to understand, accept and support their inherent traits. Neither trait determines future happiness or success but understanding them will allow you to understand their needs and ensure they are met.