As a parent, you’re always looking for little clues that reveal your child’s personality. Does he have a natural sense of humor, or is he more serious? Is she a daredevil, or does she play it safe? Is your child an introvert or an extrovert?
According to Dr. Marti Olsen Laney in The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child, temperament is hard-wired. That means, although we can grow and change over time, we're born as either introverts or extroverts. And you can tell fairly early on—Laney says children begin to show signs of introversion or extroversion as early as four months of age.
Here are 10 signs that your baby or toddler is an introvert.
Signs Your Baby or Toddler Is an Introvert
Your child might be an introvert if he or she is...
1. Curious about the world but cautious about exploring it
Many introverts have sharp minds and are naturally curious. They wonder how the world works or what makes a person tick. They're not afraid to ask the big questions, as they seem to be on a perpetual quest to understand why.
But introverts also tend to be observers, preferring to watch and reflect rather than jump in and do. Your child might be an introvert if he or she hangs out on the edges of the playgroup, preferring to watch a while before joining in. Generally, introverted children like to play it safe rather than take risks. They look before they leap and think before they speak.
2. Sensitive to their environment
As a baby, your child may have cried or thrashed around when in places where there was lots of noise or activity. In 2004, Harvard psychologists Jerome Kagan and Nancy Snidman found that babies who are very reactive to unfamiliar stimuli tend to grow up to be shy, timid, or introverted adults. As your child gets older, he or she may shut down, cling to a “safe” person, or have meltdowns in the face of crowds, new people and situations, or busy environments. Compared to extroverts, introverts are more easily drained by stimulation.
3. Had low birth weight or was born pre-term
A study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood — Fetal & Neonatal Edition found that babies born low-weight or pre-term are more likely to be introverts.
4. Clams up when meeting someone new but comes alive at home
Around an unfamiliar person, your toddler avoids eye contact and goes quiet. Private by nature, introverts tend to need time to warm up to new people; your child is no exception. However, at home, where your child feels comfortable, he or she won't hesitate to tell you a story or be silly. It's almost like your toddler is a different person around you and the family; his or her real personality comes out.
5. Easily becomes absorbed in solo play
Many introverted children have a strong imagination and a rich inner world that is alive and present for them. If your toddler spends hours lost in focused play with a certain toy, he or she might be an introvert. Older children will spend time in their bedrooms with the door closed, doing solitary activities like reading, drawing, or playing computer games.
6. Has a meltdown after a play date or busy day
Introverts get easily drained by socializing and need downtime to recharge their energy. When your kid spends time with other children, notice how they react. Do they seem tired, cranky, or overwhelmed after a playdate—even if they had fun? If so, they might be an introvert. Similarly, your child might cry or have a meltdown after a very busy day with no breaks.
7. Struggles with separation anxiety
Not all introverted children have separation anxiety, but it's quite common for them to experience it. Introverts, in general, are more at-risk for anxiety and depression than extroverts, and children are no exception. What happens when you drop off your toddler at preschool? Does he or she cry, cling to your leg, and beg you not to leave—although the other kids seem fine? If so, your child might be an introvert experiencing separation anxiety.
8. Engages with the deeper aspects of life
All children ask questions. But an introverted child might surprise you with the depth of their thinking. They may seem older than they really are, somehow possessing profound insights beyond their years. Astonishingly, even at a young age, many introverted children can step outside themselves and reflect on their own behavior.
9. Struggles to express themselves
By definition, introverts are inward personalities. They can struggle with word retrieval, because, according to Laney, they may rely more on long-term memory than short-term memory. When speaking, your child may pause frequently, searching for just the right word. They may get frustrated at not being able to express what they mean. As toddlers, they may be drawn to stories, books, and art because these give them a language to understand and express what they're thinking and feeling.
10. Relies on their inner resources
Generally, introverted children rely on their inner resources to guide them rather than constantly turning to others. “In their private garden away from the material world they concentrate and puzzle out complex and intricate thoughts and feelings,” writes Laney. The downside is they may not ask for help when they would benefit from some adult guidance. The upside is they tend to be independent and self-directed.
Celebrate Your Introverted Child
Introversion is genetic, and introverts will stay introverts for life (in fact, people tend to get even more introverted with age). This means — although your child may surprise you at times — he or she will generally always have a preference for calm, minimally stimulating environments (and ample alone time).
Nevertheless, as the parent, you play a huge role in shaping your child’s personality, and science backs this up. Kagan and Snidman found that parents who were protective of timid children strengthened their shyness. However, when parents encouraged some sociability and boldness, the children became teenagers who showed less inhibition than their more fearful counterparts.
But also help them gently push their boundaries. The world could use a little more of what they have to give.
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