Q: Hi! Thanks to your comics, my 9-year-old has fully embraced her introversion. In some ways, it’s been great… But I worry she’s taken it too far. For example, she refused to play with others on the playground, claiming she didn’t have to because she’s “an innie, not an outie!” How can I help her understand it’s okay to be an introvert, but not okay to be rude?
A: Kudos to you for helping your daughter embrace her introverted nature at an early age! Self-acceptance is an important aspect of emotional health—but so is the ability to form positive peer relationships. Here are some ideas for encouraging young introverts to extend themselves while remaining true to their introverted temperament.
Here’s an analogy: think of a yo-yo. When it isn’t being used, the string is coiled cozily within itself. When it’s time to play, the string unwinds, and the yo-yo extends outward. Fun!
Here’s the key, though: to maintain momentum, the string must frequently return into the yo-yo. As long as the rhythm of extending and returning is maintained, the yo-yo can be played with indefinitely.
Introverts are very much like yo-yos. We are comfortable when we are coiled within ourselves. But we are also perfectly capable of extending ourselves when it’s time to play or work with others. The key is to return to our inward selves when we begin to lose momentum. As your daughter practices extending herself in social situations, she will find her own rhythm—it’s different for everyone!
It takes practice to communicate both clearly and tactfully. Help your daughter come up with some go-to phrases for explaining her needs and preferences. It’s awesome that your daughter knows she’s “an innie, not an outie!” But perhaps others will understand her better if she clarifies, “I’m an introvert, so I’m a little quiet. It doesn’t mean I don’t like you or that I’m not having fun. It’s just who I am.” If she feels she’s losing momentum, she might say, “This is so much fun that I’m worn out! I’m going to take a break for a few minutes, and then we can play again.”
Additionally, you might wish to focus on body language. Some introverts may not talk much, but our body language can communicate for us. If she stands with her arms crossed, it may send a message that she’s upset or unfriendly. If she doesn’t look at the person speaking, they may incorrectly assume she’s bored or uninterested. Conversely, if she tilts her head, makes eye contact, and nods occasionally, it tells the other person that she’s engaged in the conversation—even if she isn’t talking! It may be hard at first to adapt to these habits, but mastering the skill of nonverbal communication is especially beneficial for us quiet folk.
Provide opportunities for your daughter to socialize on her own terms. Maybe the playground isn’t really her thing: it’s noisy, it’s crowded, and the other kids might be a little rowdy. That much stimuli can be overwhelming for some introverts. You might allow your daughter to bring colored pencils so she can sketch quietly with a friend. Of course, she won’t get her way 100% of the time. If her friend wants to do something else, your daughter should know that there should be some give-and-take in every relationship. But she may be more enthusiastic about the outing if she knows she’ll get a little time to do an activity she loves.
This last strategy is one I’ve used with my own kids, and it’s been immensely helpful. Sit down with your daughter, and divide a sheet of paper into two columns. Label one “Cool” and one “Not Cool.” Next, thoughtfully sort specific behaviors into one of the columns.
For example, your daughter might place “playing quietly beside a friend” in “Cool” and “ignoring my friends” in “Not Cool.” She might decide it’s “Cool” if she chooses not to kiss a relative hello, but “Not Cool” to refuse to greet that relative.
As you sort these behaviors, you can take the opportunity to discuss concepts like empathy, manners, and personal boundaries. These are big ideas for a little introvert, but a greater understanding of these concepts leads to more considerate behavior.
Navigating social situations can be challenging. But patience and persistence pay off! As your daughter practices these skills, she will form positive interpersonal relationships while staying true to her introverted self. And if you ask me, that’s pretty “Cool.”