What Do You Mean, “She’s an Introvert”?!

Last week was a difficult week. And by difficult, I mean the kind of week where I would have sold my child to the highest bidder had someone been crazy enough to make me an offer. She was crabby, moody and sick.  Non-stop tantrums and altogether disagreeable. It wasn’t just around her family. My girl was acting up at school too.

I had several conversations with her preschool teacher to help figure out her recent nutty behavior. During one of these conversations, her teacher told me that my girl does best when she’s left to play by herself; that she is very content being alone. So much so that she will leave an activity if another child comes over to join her (if she doesn’t scream at them to go away first). The teacher described the group of boys in the class as a tight-knit group of rambunctious boys and the girls as a group of outgoing, energetic fashionistas; girly girls who love to pose and show off their glittery outfits. And then there’s Zoey. She doesn’t fit into either of these groups. She wasn’t describing a problem, per se, just a difference. It sounded to me like she was describing an introvert.

Am I blind? How have I known this child for almost 5 years and not realized that she was an introvert? If you know me, then you have to laugh at that. My kid? An introvert? I’m one of the most extroverted people on the planet. It makes sense, though. She often will say that she prefers to stay at home and play. When I ask her who her friends are at school, her answer is usually along the lines of “Nobody.” I’ve always known that it takes her a little while to warm up to people. But then I figured she was fine. But was she, really? Now I have a whole new way to consider parenting her — a way that is the total opposite of my extroverted instincts. What is a mother to do? Turn to the internet of course!

This kid is an introvert? Photo credit: K. Stevenson
This kid is an introvert? Ask her friends.
Photo credit: K. Stevenson

Here are a few things I’ve learned that I’m keeping in mind when it comes to my girl:

  • Introverts can get overwhelmed with too much stimulation and prefers quiet, solitary activities. She needs downtime to recharge. I’ll try not to over schedule her and try to balance the introverted activities—like playing with Barbie Dolls—with the extraverted activities—like play dates with her friend Josh. No characteristic is absolute; both sides are good to have, so it’s about finding the right mix.
  • Accept her for what she is and what she likes. She really does like playing by herself; she enjoys her own company. That’s a good quality in an only child! I have to remember not to push her to be more outgoing by forcing her into group activities or team sports. (Hello? Dance class? Oops.) When she is involved in activities with lots of other kids, I need to give her time to ease into them. Instead of just dropping her on the dance floor and saying “Go!” She would benefit from time to get used to the noise and the group before joining. (Aha moment!)
  • Realize that introversion and shyness are not the same things. Neither does being introverted mean being friendless. (Phew!) Introverts usually pick a few close friends instead of befriending the whole class. This is evident in our lives now as we’re gearing up for her birthday party. Most days, she doesn’t want anyone from preschool to come to her party, or is very…selective picky as to who she thinks should come. But she always wants her friend Josh there. They’ve known each other since birth, but now attend different preschools and don’t see each other every day. That’s good enough for her.
  • Highlight the benefits of being an introvert. She’s a great problem solver and comes up with the best ideas. She loves to do creative, artsy activities and is good at them. Take the opportunity to praise her for ability to play independently, to be creative and think things through.
  • As she gets older, take advantage of her introversion and my extroversion. Use it as way to talk about differences! Let’s face it; she’s going to need to understand me too. (Mommy, why are you talking to that lady at the grocery store?)

I know this made me feel better and I hope it helps you too. Let me know your thoughts on raising introverted children. Many people have suggested Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I’ve put it on my list to read when I get a chance, you know, as soon as I stop talking.

Here are some of the blogs and articles that helped me:

Raising an Introvert When You’re an Extrovert

Raising an Introvert in and Extrovert World

5 Things to Know About Raising Introverted Children


48 thoughts on “What Do You Mean, “She’s an Introvert”?!

  1. I never saw this post, so I am so glad that it was featured. I am an extrovert and I have recently discovered (ahem, accepted) that my daughter is an introvert. She is always singing, talking, and whooping it up at home, but at school her teachers tell me that she prefers to hang out with adults and doesn’t flock to the big groups of kids.

    Thanks for letting me know that this doesn’t have to break my heart or mean that she’ll be lonely. I’ve been struggling with this lately and read it at just the right time.

  2. What a loving mother you are!
    Wishing my parents had this information back when I was young. “Lucy” from the Peanuts was my nickname. I’m feeling a sense of coming into myself reading this. “Ah! That’s what was going on with me!” I was labeled as shy pushed out to do so much. Hated it. Was mean and crabby when I was. I was put in the drama club with the hope I would be an actor. I did some, terrible stage fright, but I found my introvert way to back stage support. (you have to stay quiet and just do your job. Love that!) I then studied in stage managing in college and worked many years in theatre and film. So some encouragement is needed (like getting used to the noise in the dance class, Yeah mom!) and then we’ll find our place as it’s accepted and normalized.
    I love that word “introvert” is coming out of the shadows as something bad and the bright light of how we can shine in our own way is being seen! Thank you!

    1. Andrea, it’s great to hear that you challenged your comfort zone and survived. I have high hopes for my girls future! I love the part about coming out of the shadows and shining! Thank you!

  3. I loved Susan Cain’s book. It told me so much about me, and also about who and what I’m not. She makes a useful distinction between shy and sensitive, and I think this explanation might be of use to you. I’m so glad that you are aware of the extrovert/introvert difference between you and your daughter. It will be such a blessing to her as she grows up, with the sensitivity you’ll be able to offer her.

    I send you much love. I wish you all the best.

  4. I love this and love the pic- looks like one of her Barbie’s is very, ahem, extroverted?!?! Or maybe she and topless Ken are just sharing a quiet moment in the privacy of their Dream House and we were invading their space?

    Seriously though, you are a great mom, and the ability to acknowledge, accept, and allow our kids to be who they are proves it! ❤

    1. Well I don’t have to worry about any Ken and Barbie hankie pankie-the dog ate him last week. Lol. Thanks for the love Dena!

  5. I think that it is very perceptive of you to notice that being introverted is different from being shy. I am a natural introvert and I would describe my Mother and sister as being extroverts. I was always labelled as being “shy”. When is fact I was incredibly outgoing in my own way. My advice to you is just to listen to her. I attended an interesting conference recently. One of the panel discussions was all about being introverted in a world that highly values extroversion. I am happy that you are noticing that your daughter may be a little different from you and that this does not mean that she will be any less successful and happy.

    1. Thank you Laura! I think my daughter is like that too-outgoing in her own way. As long as it’s in her comfort zone on her terms. Love the advice! Listening is so important.

  6. Thank you for this. I have four children and am raising both extroverts and introverts. It kills me when people consider some of my children being introverts as something that needs to be “fixed”, some unnacceptable flaw. I wanted to cry when one of their teachers told me they had no desire to
    attempt to change one of them because it’s who she is and she’s great. That being a little quiet and reserved isn’t such a bad thing, she is happy, healthy, learning,thriving and amazing the way she is.

    1. Christina I’m learning that introverts are very misunderstood, especially by extroverts. Sounds like your child had a great teacher! Thanks for the input!

  7. I’m also an extrovert raising an introvert. Yikes, it’s tough. I guess that’s all I can say. It’s really difficult when you don’t understand your own kid’s thought process – when his/her reaction to situations is the opposite of your reaction. I definitely affects my ability to be as social as I would like to be. If I could only find some really quiet well-behaved 2 year-olds for him to hang out with then we’d be ok!

    1. I agree that understanding the thought process is a big part of it. In fact, as an extrovert who doesn’t think too deeply about acting, just knowing that she has a thought process is key! Thanks for your input and good luck!

  8. Thanks for this post! As an introvert, I confirm you really have to give her some time alone otherwise she is going to become moody and cranky. I used to be myself very moody (and I keep on being) when I did (do) not have that for myself. For instance, youth camps would get me very stressed and aggressive with my friends, e.g. when I had to share a room and the other children would make a lot of noise, especially at night. My friends used be bewildered at this (I would shout at them, messing around, crying, litterally giving orders to my peers to be quiet!), but this is just an expression of introversion being violated.

  9. I am an introvert who was raised by two introverts. My favorite thing to do was to be at home reading books! I always had just a couple good friends and that was fine by me. Unfortunately in the 80’s “extrovert heaven”, that lead to being bullied quite a bit, but as I grew up I realized I was fine the way I was, even if it was different than everyone else. Later on I learned in psychology the definition of extrovert vs introvert is where we get our energy. Extroverts get their energy from crowds, other people. While introvert’s energy is sapped by crowds and other people. Introverts get their energy from inside themselves instead. After I learned and accepted that, life made a whole lot more sense. Socializing and parties are a rarity for me. I can be with a few select people and have a good time, but big crowds, parties, noise are all too overstimulating for me. I’m now in a job where I can teach 1:1 or a teach a family and I love it! Your insights on the needing time to adjust or acclimate are spot on, that will help your daughter greatly.

    1. Thanks Sarah! Great call out on the energy clarification. It totally makes sense. I’m glad it’s all making sense to you now. That’s a huge part of the battle.

  10. I’m pretty introverted. I always had one or two best friends in school, then a few other, more distant friends that I played with some. (I befriend the other girls and boys who were left outside the popular cliques.)

    When I was in high school, I spent plenty of time with my friends during the day–at lunch, in classes, and in afternoon activities (which were mandatory at my school). Then I went home. I never called my friends on the phone (I still hate to use the phone!) and never saw them on the weekends. I can count the number of sleepovers I had in my life on one hand.

    In fact, my preferred weekend activity was to go to my grandmother’s house and make arts and crafts. I sold crafts at craft shows with my grandmother until I left for college at the age of 17! Most people found it astonishing that a teenager would want to spend that much time with her grandmother, but I could always chill at Nanny’s house. She was an introvert, too; I never had to go anywhere or do anything; we only occasionally met to talk, then went back to what we were doing. It was total freedom and relaxation.

    So, you can probably look forward to your daughter spending more time at home with you than a typical kid/teen… so long as you understand that “spending time with you” means, for an introvert, to be in the same house as another person. Introverts like companionship; we just like companionship to happen, oh, about 20 yards away from us. We don’t need to be within visual range all the time. We don’t like being within hearing range most of the time.

    If you feel that your daughter needs to get out of the house more, look at more introverted social groups. Dance class… probably not a good idea. (Although I did it for a year, just because *I* wanted to take ballet.) Theater’s it probably not a good idea, either. (Although *I* chose to do it in high school for a few years.) Parties and concerts are going to be a bust most of the time, and shopping… I doubt your introverted daughter will ever be very interested in shopping, the mall, or any place with large crowds.

    What she might like, though, is “nerdy” group activities. Oh, yes, I’m talking about sci-fi conventions. Anime club. Dungeons and Dragon LARP groups. Historic re-enacting. Chess, book, or science/math clubs. World of Warcraft online (introverts rarely make a distinction between virtual and in-person interaction; in fact, an online/text chat is much preferred to a phone call or in-person meeting most of the time).

    I do medieval re-enacting, and many of the people I play with are introverts or ambiverts (I married an ambivert). I think all of the girls in my anime club at college were introverts as well. Introverts like doing things that require imagination, creativity, reading, learning, etc. We don’t meet with people to share ourselves; we meet to share ideas.

    1. Keri, great stories about spending time with your Nanny! Love the connection you had with her and I hope my daughter can do the same with her grandmother. Maybe being an introvert will give her the patience and focus to do so! Also, great suggestions on the introverted social groups. Isn’t “nerdy” the new cool? Good stuff, thanks!

    2. I have to disagree with some of this. It’s true that some or many introverts wouldn’t like dance class, acting, crowded places, concerts, and so forth, and that probably a majority of them prefer nerdy-type activities (myself included), but don’t discount any kind of activity for your child. Your introvert might prefer sports to science fiction or speech and debate to chess club. Many introverts excel at dance and acting. As an introverted 8-year old, I was thrilled to take a ballet class and have always regretted not having enough money to continue studying it, and I’ve always loved acting.
      I’ve never minded crowded places, even as a child; in fact, I rather like them, when I’m alone, because they give me a sense of anonymity. I hate the mall, but I love the farmer’s market, and I would prefer it to be a little crowded rather than empty, because if I’m the only person there, I get all the attention of all the vendors, whereas in a crowd I can slightly disappear, do my thing, and, best of all, observe people.
      Also, this isn’t always true, though it often is: “We don’t meet with people to share ourselves; we meet to share ideas.” If you’ve ever studied the Myers-Briggs personality type assessment (which if you don’t I highly recommend it), you know that loving to know people and share personal things is more dependent on the Thinking-Feeling dichotomy than on the Introvert-Extravert one. I love a conversation with a good friend that delves deeply into personal issues as well as esoteric ideas. I love to spend time with people I know well and love, and I love to have deep, rambling conversations about everything from our spiritual lives to what we think about Spock’s Vulcan philosophy. Being around strangers whom I’m forced to interact with can wipe me out, but I can hang out with a close, beloved friend for hours talking and feel as good as if I’m alone. Just because you have an introvert doesn’t mean you have a child who hates people or can’t bear to be around them. She’ll just have less energy and patience for certain kinds of interactions, and the kind of interaction will depend entirely on her own idiosyncratic way of being introverted.

    3. My introverted daughter loves dance class. She started at age 4 in a fairly large group but the group has dwindled over the years to where there only about 8 or 10 girls in any one class (ballet, tap, etc.). (Many girls decide they don’t like dance or choose sports instead in the early elementary years.) Some members of her class asked to form a competition dance team, and my daughter is a member. They performed for the first time a couple of weeks ago and it was in front of about 200 people (mostly strangers). But like the other things you said, she has only one good friend, many acquaintances that she sees only at school, and likes to spend a lot of time at home. So very much an introvert. We tried several activities when she was young, such as sports and gymnastics, but dance was the one she kept doing. Keri, I love that you befriended the “left-out” kids.

  11. I am an introvert in a family of introverts, but I still learn new things about us all the time. Even though I’ve done a lot of reading lately about introverts, I just learned something from your article. When you wrote “I have to remember not to push her to be more outgoing by forcing her into group activities or team sports.” I suddenly realized that describes my high schooler. This year was her freshman year and she didn’t join any school clubs. She told me the other day that now that she’s used to high school, next year she and her best friend (also an introvert) are going to join either student council or a service club. I didn’t realize she had needed to “warm up” to high school. Thanks for a great article.

  12. Great read! I’m an introvert in a family of extroverts, and it sounds like you’re on track! The hardest one for me (even as an adult) is getting to church late. If I don’t have a chance to acclimate, it’s way TOO much stimulation for me to handle.
    Raising extroverts has been eye-opening!

    1. Thanks Melissa! I’m loving all the insight from introverts and extroverts alike on this topic. Such great perspectives.

  13. Good for you! As an introvert raised by extroverts who just thought I was defective, I salute you! My daughter is an extrovert, so I had to learn to give her ENOUGH social interaction – not a natural thing for me. I salute you!

  14. This is lovely. I love that you’re accepting your daughter’s differences rather than forcing her to do the same things you did as a child.
    I preferred Dr. Marti Olsen Laney’s book “The Introvert Advantage” to “Quiet,” though “Quiet” is quite a good book as well. And there’s a little booklet on Amazon called “I’ll Be In My Room” that specifically addresses the issues introverts face in school. It’s not the most well-written book in the world, but it is based on a pretty good survey and responses by actual students (mostly high schoolers, I think, but your daughter will be a high schooler before you know it…).

  15. My husband and I are introverts trying to raise two extrovert daughters. What a challenge! Sometimes I look up at planes crossing the sky, and just wish I was on one with a good book. The girls think we are the most boring people, and that we don’t love them because we’re not always wanting to be with them and constantly chat.

    1. Sometimes I am so extroverted I annoy myself so I appreciate your need for a little peace and quiet Linda!

  16. I agree with Jo. I wish my mom and teachers had this information when I was growing up. I have spent my life trying to keep up with the extroverts and wondering why I couldn’t keep up. Great post.

  17. I have 2 introverts. My daughter is 15. She was always the child that teachers loved. She did morning work without needing to be told. She would sit at the carpet while the teachers wrangled the other children to carpet time. She prefers the company of adults.

    When I initially told her that she was introverted she became angry but now she has embraced it. When she was off for Christmas break I asked her if she wanted to invite any of her friends over and she responded “No, I’m on break from them as well.”
    I asked her if she wanted to have a Sweet 16 party and she said no.
    My son, too, tends to prefer to play on his own or with only one or two people. I sometimes think that it was a failing that we sent them to Magnet schools instead of base schools. There friends aren’t neighbors so they tend to be far away from there friends.
    With that being said, they each have a very few, close friends. Friends that they have had for years. Friends that no matter what, they stick with. They both are very loyal.

    1. Interesting take on the magnet schools vs. base schools for introverts as we are getting ready for school now and are on a wait list for a magnet. That’s what I love about this blog -I always find a different way to look at things!
      I hope that my daughter makes a few lifelong friends. Sounds like you have a couple of well -rounded kids. Thanks.

  18. I too am raising an introvert and even though I’m pretty introverted too, it’s hard to see it from another perspective. You points were good. I will add that we’ve found with our daughter that giving her advance warning of social situations with as much information as possible about who will be there and what we’ll be doing is helpful. We’ve also told her that she can spend the first 10 minutes of any social situation with Mommy or Daddy and then she can join the group.

  19. My oldest niece is exactly as you describe, and my sister in law is a raging extrovert (almost to the point of being an attention seeker). My niece is very pensive and observant. And people LISTEN to her when she says stuff because she doesn’t speak for the sake of speaking; she speaks for the sake of making a point. I’m convinced that this girl will one day rule the world…

    I LOVE your picture. She is so beautiful!

  20. Love this post Kriste! As an introvert myself (most people think I’m an extrovert but it’s so not true!) I love all of the bullet points above. You are a wonderful mom to put this much thought into how you can nurture her and not try to make her someone she isn’t!

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