Is It Easier, or Harder, to Parent an Introverted Child?
What do introverted children urgently need their parents to know about them?
Posted January 23, 2019
The short answer to the question in my title is all too frustratingly familiar: "It depends.”
When I decided to write a post on whether it’s less difficult to raise an introverted child than an extroverted one, my working hypothesis was simply, Yes. After all, since introverted kids are by nature more self-contained, it would certainly appear they’d be easier to raise because they’d be “lower maintenance” than their more boisterous and generally more demanding extroverted counterparts. Quieter, preferring solitude over socializing, and living far more “inside” themselves, their requirement for time and attention would definitely seem less than would be the case for outwardly directed, relationship-oriented extroverted children.
Still, when I started reviewing what’s been said about introverted children and how best to nurture them, I quickly realized I’d been asking the wrong question. Instead, I should have been contemplating whether it’s easier for an introverted mother (or two introverted parents) to rear an introverted child than for an extroverted mother (or father) to raise one. And the answer to that question would appear so blatantly obvious that even asking it would be gratuitous.
Why? simply that the more a child differs from their parents, the harder it will be for them to decipher what, to flourish, such a child requires of them. If only subconsciously, they’ll feel less comfortable with their temperamentally divergent child because its very nature is more or less alien to their innate constitution. And, at a very deep level, their child’s inborn predispositions and preferences can’t help but be experienced as indirectly invalidating their own—at times, even threateningly so.
Additionally, inasmuch as they probably believe their extroverted lifestyle has operated well for them, that it’s the only “right” way to go, they’ll naturally assume their child would be best served by following their lead—that, as good, responsible parents, they need to figure out how to set limits on their child’s introversion. And, ideally, to turn that child into a more gregarious, outgoing extrovert.
But any attempt at such personality alteration won’t, and can’t, work. Prodding or pushing their introverted child to behave in a manner contrary to that child’s nature—or purposely bending the child to their pronounced extroverted will—will succeed only in bending that (afflicted) child out of shape. For what’s healthy, applicable and adaptive in rearing an extrovert may be quite maladaptive in like-minded endeavors to bring up an introvert.
There’s a book based on the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory called Nurture by Nature (Tieger & Tieger, 1997). It refers to individualized parenting, wisely suggesting that, opposed to common assumptions, or conventional wisdom, it‘s not appropriate to raise your children “democratically,” as though all your kids are basically the same, so ought to be treated the same. On the contrary, in parenting one size does not fit all, and a caregiver’s approach to nurturing their kids ought to depend on the child’s unique nature—and certainly not the parent's. Whether the parent is introverted or extroverted, it suggests that extroverts are more troublesome to manage. For example, the authors comment: “It can be exhausting to parent extraverted children. They can just seem like too much of a good thing, especially for more introverted parents [emphasis added].
Consider this thoughtful essay written by an introverted mother of three—two leaning toward introversion, the third a blatant extrovert:
It’s important for me to remember that my children’s social needs aren’t the same as mine. Two of my children tend toward introversion, but the third is an extrovert. Our son Aidan spends so much time talking during family meals that we have to remind him to eat. At bedtime, he’d rather be hanging out in his brother’s or sister’s room than alone in his. He thrives on social contact, and I have to make an effort to provide it for him through play dates and other interactions with friends. [But] there has to be a balance between our introverted and extroverted activities as a family. The restorative moments of quiet I take help bolster my energy so I can achieve that balance. (Suzanne Nelson, “How Being an Introvert Affects My Mom Personality,” Washington Post, July 6, 2018.)
To raise a child the way you were raised (or perhaps always wished to be raised) without considering where on the intoversion-extroversion scale your child resides isn’t merely insensitive but seriously detrimental to their development. So if they’re introverted, raising them to be extroverts amounts to denying or dismissing the very essence of their being. And, however benevolent your intentions, such parenting is inherently abusive in the sense that it can’t but end up shaming the child.
Which is to say that almost inevitably the invalidated introverted child will get the message that there’s something fundamentally wrong with them, that they somehow don’t belong in this family, that finally they can’t really be acceptable unless they manage to “fix” their inherently flawed nature. And, of course, such a nature can’t be fixed because there’s nothing wrong or broken about it. Such a parent-child conundrum is hardly a petty matter either, since a child’s core image of self is in so many ways rooted in how much, on an ongoing basis, they experience their parents’ approval. And when kids are young (regardless of whether they’re introverts or extroverts) they’re unable—simply from within themselves—to affirm their native worth.
More specifically, what other mistakes and oversights might extroverted parents be susceptible to making in raising an introverted child?
Here are just a few to ponder:
- It’s psychologically harmful for a timid, shy or reserved child to be regarded by their parents as just going through a stage, expecting the child (because, after all, they’re extroverts themselves) to “grow out of it”—as though their child’s insularity is merely a temporary aberration. But just imagine how this message, however covertly delivered, would likely affect their introverted child. As one writer puts it: “Recent research has found that favouring fast talkers over soft speakers may affect the mental health of young introverts” (Colleeen Grant, “Quiet Kids: Tips for Nurturing Introverted Children,” Alive.com, Jan. 20, 2017). Moreover, such parental/family bias against introversion extends outward toward contemporary culture. Citing Susan Cain, speaker and author of the seminal work Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2013), this same author notes: “In Cain’s view, Western society celebrates bold speakers, daring risk takers, and outgoing leaders. Meanwhile, passive intellectuals may fly under our cultural radar.”
- Odds are that the perceptual mismatch between an extroverted parent and an introverted child will result in a much higher-than-average incidence of miscommunication and misunderstanding. It’s difficult enough for a child to find the right words to accurately express their thoughts and feelings. Nonetheless, even when they’re able to, if they’re conversing with an extroverted parent, they’re still fairly likely to be misunderstood. For their parent may not be capable of making "extroverted sense” out of their words. In short, the parent and child inhabit two different worlds, so they’re often out of sync. And this disharmony can result in the child’s feeling frustrated, isolated and alone—as well as add to the risk of their developing subsequent problems with anxiety and/or depression. Moreover, if the introverted child feels their parent just can’t “get” them, they’re far less likely to confide in them. And that seriously limits the all-important emotional and mental intimacy between parent and child. And, too, it diminishes the positive influence the parent might otherwise have on their child’s healthy development. For generally speaking, if parents can discern what’s going on inside their child's head they can productively impart to them their hard-won wisdom.
- One additional ill-conceived propensity of the extroverted parent is aggressively to press their introverted child into undertaking something they’re not yet prepared to do. Many authors, for example, have referred to parental attempts to actively intervene for their child when the child is hesitant to initiate friendships with peers. But such efforts can easily backfire because the introverted child typically needs to approach the other child at their own (reserved) pace and likely doesn’t want their parent to break the ice for them. To the child, such parental facilitation can feel like interference or intrusion. So, unintendedly, such interventions can impel the child to back off all the more. Plus, initiating relational contact is a skill introverted children need to develop largely on their own, so such “helpful” parenting may actually impede the child’s social growth.
It might be added here that various sorts of parent-child personality combinations exist: not only an introverted child with an extroverted mother but the reverse as well. Also needing to be considered is where the secondary parent, most often the father, is on the introversion-extroversion spectrum. And, too, just how strong such a temperamental bias is for both parent and child. For taking all these factors into account will help determine the most auspicious way to raise the child. What, finally, could be more crucial to “informed” parenting than being sensitive and responsive to—and respectful of—a child’s authentic, inborn nature?
Moreover, the parents’ coming to such an enlightened, sympathetic understanding of their child can be invaluable to their own relationship. It’s all-too-common for marital partners to argue about how best to raise their child based primarily on how introverted or extroverted each of them happens to be. For that matter, any introverted/extroverted split between them may have caused chronic friction in their relationship as well—tensions that can be productively addressed only when they’re no longer so frustrated, or threatened, by such historically antagonizing differences.
To sum up, to be the caregiver the introverted child so desperately needs, parents must put aside their own biases (based on their distinct genetic code) and become aware of how their child’s psyche, naturally diverging from theirs, necessitates not correction but caring, compassionate understanding. Parents need consciously to appreciate how damaging it can be to treat their child in the same fashion as they would a more extroverted one—or might themselves choose to be treated.
NOTE: In trying to keep this post to a reasonable length, I've not provided a lengthy tabulation of how parents (especially extroverted ones) should parent an introverted child, for there’s already ample literature on this subject. Rather, I'm including in the highly selective bibliography below a sampling of easy-to-find articles, and two important books, for readers interested in learning more about the do’s and don’ts of such parenting.
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Crown Publishing
Francis, M. (2016, Feb. 17) 4 things I learned as an extrovert raising an introvert. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/4-things-i-learned-as-an-extrovert-raisi…
Granneman, J. (n.d.) For extroverts: 15 ways to be a better parent to your introverted kid. Retrieved from https://www.quietrev.com/15-ways-to-parent/
Grant, C. (2013, Mar. 7) Quiet kids: Tips for nurturing introverted children. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-ab&q=Tips+for+nurturin….
Jacobson, T. (2017, Oct. 25) What I wish my extroverted parents knew about raising an introvert. Retrieved from https://introvertdear.com/news/parents-raising-introvert/
Leygerman, D. (2017, July 2) 7 struggles of being an extrovert mom raising an introvert kid. Retrieved from https://www.romper.com/p/7-struggles-of-being-extrovert-mom-raising-int…
Nadworny, E. (2016, Feb. 18) How parents and teachers can nurture the “quiet power” of introverts. How parents and teachers can nurture the “quiet power” of introverts. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/02/18/465999756/how-parents-and-te…
Nelson, S. (2016). How being an introvert affects my mom personality. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/07/06/how-being-a…
Newman, C. ( n.d.). Parenting your little introvert or extrovert. Retrieved from https://www.realsimple.com/work-life/family/kids-parenting/introvert-ex…?
Nightingale, L. V. (2017, July 17) Extroverted moms with introverted sons: Respecting your differences. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/extroverted-moms-with-introverted-sons…
Rooheart, J. (2017, Mar. 28). 4 mistakes extroverted parents make with their introverted kids. Retrieved from https://introvertdear.com/news/introverted-kids-mistakes-extroverted-pa…
Tieger, P. D., & Barron-Tieger, B. (1997). Nurture by nature: Understand your child’s personality type—and become a better parent (Boston: Little, Brown).