Personality: Keys to Parenting an Introvert
Let your introverts be introverts. Don’t assume that something is wrong with them or that they need to be changed. Remember, they can be as lonely in a crowd as you can be when you are alone. Someone said, “Introversion isn’t a disease that needs to be surgically removed.” He was right. In the United States approximately 75 percent of the population prefers extroversion and only 25 percent prefers introversion. However, in Japan the percentages are reversed. The majority of the population prefers introversion, and introversion is what is viewed as “normal.”
Be patient with introverts. Their initial response to new ideas can appear to be a bit negative, and they tend to be more resistant to change. Be careful not to jump to conclusions (something introverts are rarely accused of doing), assuming that they are stubborn, unwilling to bend or uninvolved. Because of their preferred way of processing information, introverts may take longer to come to a conclusion, but when they do make a decision, it is likely to have been well thought out.
Give introverts time and space. Remember it often takes many introverts a little longer to “warm up.” Researchers have done time studies on how long it takes extroverts and introverts to respond to a question. The results indicate that the average response time for an extrovert is under two seconds. That’s no surprise! Keep in mind that their initial response may not be very profound, but at least they do start talking.
The same research showed that introverts wait an average of more than seven seconds-a lifetime to extroverts-before they say anything at all. Many extroverts jump to the erroneous conclusion that they are bored, confused, asleep, want the extrovert to say more or are playing passive-aggressive power games.
Ask introverts for their opinion; then when they give it, listen, ask a few more questions and look into their eyes. Introverts may take more time to communicate a thought than extroverts do. Don’t assume that when they stop speaking to take a breath, they are finished. For introverts, a three-minute pause is a short period of time; for extroverts the same three minutes can seem like an eternity. I don’t know of anyone who likes to be interrupted. Introverts are no exception. Taking time says that you value them and that what they have to say is important to you. Giving them a bit more time to respond can result in more communication and greater understanding.
Don’t assume that introverts don’t have an opinion or don’t want to talk.
Encourage them to think out loud. Invite them to share where they are in the process of thinking about an issue. Remind them that they don’t have to have everything thought out before they share it with you. This can help them develop the skill of thinking out loud and help you develop the skill of thinking before you speak.
Give introverts time to work through their emotions. My son Nathan stormed into the house, stomped up the steps and slammed the door. This isn’t how Nathan usually comes home, so I knew something was wrong. I was also frustrated by his slamming his door. We’ve trained our boys to know that experiencing anger is okay, but it should be expressed in healthy ways-and slamming a door isn’t one of them.
I had a choice. I could walk into Nathan’s room, criticize him for slamming his door and let him know in no uncertain terms that I didn’t want it to happen again, or I could choose to understand his pain and help him work through it. Because Nathan is an introvert, he needs to process emotions and events internally before he is ready and able to talk about them. Therefore, I knew that if I wanted to understand him and if I wanted him to feel understood, I would need to give him some alone time.
After waiting half an hour, I went up to his room and sat down on the floor next to him. “Sounds like you had a rough day,” I said quietly.
After a few moments of silence (keep in mind that if you are an extrovert, this may seem like hours), he said, “yeah.”
“Well,” I continued, “I came up so you could talk to me about it. You don’t have to, but in the past you’ve told me that it helped.” After another pause I concluded, “I’ll just sit here with you for a few minutes and you can share whenever you want.”
After a few minutes, Nathan started to open up. I listened, and then I listened some more. I asked a few open questions. I didn’t offer a solution or give advice. As it turned out, one of his best friends at school had cracked a joke at Nathan’s expense and all of his friends had laughed. On the outside he had laughed with them, but inside he felt a hurt and humiliation that quickly led to anger. Of course, like a good introvert, he kept all of these feelings inside, so none of his friends had any idea that he had been offended.
When Nathan finished sharing his heart with me, I had the opportunity to explore some other responses with him. Before I went back downstairs, we joined hands and prayed together. Because I understood the significant implications of personality type, because I understood that introverts process experiences differently than extroverts, I was able to be available to love him in ways meaningful to him.
After reading the last few pages, you may have a new perspective on introverts and extroverts, especially if your child’s preference is different from yours. What are one or two things you’ve learned that you can apply today in the life of one your kids?
Used with permission from H. Norman Wright and Gary Oliver’s book, Raising Kids To Love Jesus.
Dr. Gary Oliver has over 30 years experience in individual, premarital, marital and family counseling and for the past 20 years he has had an extensive nationwide teaching ministry.