Raising an Introverted Child in a Big, Extroverted Family

I’m a mom of five kids, and for this the-more-the-merrier ENFP, the chaos, chatter, and comings-and-goings are part of what makes family life fun. So, it didn’t occur to me at first how overwhelming the constant activity could be for a child who prefers and needs quiet…until, of course, my second-eldest son Isaac started growing up and his introverted ways began shining through.

While I can’t understand what it’s like to be Isaac, time and reading about what introverts need have helped me to adjust my parenting to best meet Isaac’s quiet nature. Here are some of the introvert-parenting ground rules I live by, now that Isaac is 15.  

Give them space (physical and mental)

Our family of seven lives in a normal-sized home that doesn’t offer a lot of private room. While most of the kids are happy to share bedrooms, Isaac has always craved more alone time…especially since he’s been an adolescent. When we didn’t have the space to give him his own bedroom upstairs with the rest of the kids, we converted an area of our basement into his own private hangout. He loved having his own space so much that he often started using it as his bedroom. Some people might think of sending a kid to sleep in the basement as some kind of punishment, but for Isaac, his own four walls, a door, and a floor between him and his siblings were a gift.

But space doesn’t have to be physical to give much-needed privacy and quiet to an introverted child. In our home, Isaac can often be seen rolling on a scooter from room to room, earbuds in place, deep in thought. Sometimes he and I will give each other a smile and nod, or a high-five, as we pass.

Had you asked me five years ago, I might have sworn that I’d never let one of my kids tune out the rest of the household, but over time I came to realize how much Isaac occasionally needs to be able to block out all the background noise and hubbub. Rolling around (or pacing) helps him “reset” and recharge his batteries. As long as he regularly pops out those ‘buds and engages with his siblings, his dad, and me, I’m cool with it.

Let them keep their own hours (within reason)

During summer vacations and on weekend nights, it’s not unusual for me to get up for a drink of water late at night and find Isaac roaming the house. It used to bother me that he kept his own hours—especially because the “good mom” voice in my head pressured me to keep him on a more structured schedule—but I came to realize that Isaac really values the quiet and solitude he gets when he’s up after everyone else has headed to bed.

To make sure he gets enough sleep, I do gently help him get back on a more normal schedule when school is in session, but I try not to stress too much about his offbeat hours the rest of the time. After all, plenty of very successful people have built their careers in the middle of the night, right?

Don’t take it personally

As an ENFP—an extrovert who’s big on physical affection and verbal validation—I find it sometimes difficult to relate to my reserved, quiet son. At times, I wonder if I’m “getting through to him” and have other clichéd parenting worries.

But what I’ve learned is that his introversion isn’t about me. It’s not a reflection of my parenting, and it doesn’t mean I’m doing anything wrong.

More importantly, just because he doesn’t say much or hides in his room for hours at a time doesn’t mean he’s withdrawn, depressed, or doesn’t like us! Paying attention to what’s normal for Isaac—and not the other, more extroverted, members of our family—helps me recognize when he might need a little extra support. The rest of the time, I just try to let him do his thing.

Give them plenty of opportunities to gain confidence…starting young

All of our kids have been ordering their own meals in restaurants and paying for their treats at the corner store since they were quite small. For Isaac, this was a challenge, but we kept gently encouraging him to speak up, make eye contact, and ask for what he wants. Now that he’s a teen, I would classify him as reserved, but not shy. I’m glad to know that while he might not love talking to strangers, he’s also not afraid to order a pizza if he needs to.

Read up on the qualities of introverts and extroverts and how they relate to one another

When Isaac was a toddler, he was fearless and physically adventurous, while his older brother Jacob was sensitive and cautious. If you had asked me then, I’d have pegged Jacob as the introvert and Isaac as the extrovert because I didn’t realize what introversion can look like. I could have understood—and helped!—Isaac a lot sooner if I’d known what to look for.

As a mom of many kids—particularly many extroverted kids—I see it as my job to make our little corner of the world more hospitable to Isaac’s quiet ways. The bonus? As he grows, I can see how much he really enjoys being around his more extroverted family members…as long as we let him do it on his own terms.