What Not to Say (and What to Say) to Your Introverted Child

introverted child tips
The tricky thing about being an introverted homebody in an extroverted, social society is that you really need to be part of a support group, but then you’d have to leave the house and be around people.

As a passionate introvert, I’m so thankful my sweet husband and daughters are willing to be my built-in, live-in support group. (I pay them with chocolate-chip cookies.)

If you’re the parent of an introverted child–especially if you are an extroverted parent–here are a few things you might want to consider editing out of or adding to your conversations with your son or daughter.

What not to say to your introverted child:

  • “Come on! You’ll have fun at the party once you get there.” Please try to understand: “fun” and “party” are often mutually exclusive terms for introverts.

    This is not about disliking people or being rude. It doesn’t mean the introvert cares nothing about others or about the occasion behind the event.

This is about the DNA-determined reality that introverts get their energy from being alone.

Extroverts are charged up by being around other people, but introverts fill their mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical tanks through solitude.

We’re not talking right-or-wrong here; we’re talking this-or-that.

While your son or daughter may, in fact, end up having “fun” at whatever event is looming, that is not actually the point. The dread of being in a large, socially charged setting is often the worst part of the whole gig. (And this is where you might want to clarify: if the event is a small gathering of people your “I’m fine by myself, thanks” child knows well, tell them so. Some introverts look forward to these kinds of intimate interactions.)

When you are teaching your children to live beyond themselves and prioritize the feelings of others over their own, they will often have to do what they don’t necessarily want to do. Tell your child this is one of those times. Explain why they need to do this…who they will honor or bless or what milestone or accomplishment they will help recognize. But be careful about undermining their legitimate feelings by trying to talk them into thinking they’ll enjoy something outside their comfort zone.

  • “Don’t be so shy.” I’m sure you know this, but here it is for the record: being shy and being introverted are not the same thing.

I don’t consider myself shy. In fact, I love drama and being on stage and performing. I adore public speaking. All this usually leads people to argue with me when I declare my affinity for fellow introverts. What they are missing is that I love to do my act…and then get the heck out of there and go home and be by myself

Telling your child not to be shy also implies that they are making a choice about who they are and how they feel about social interaction. It assumes your introvert can simply choose to turn on some “I love being around people” switch at will. Not true.

If you are an extrovert, can you simply decide that you like being alone and that solitude is what energizes you? Of course not. Same rules apply for the other team, too.

  • “Keep trying…you’ll grow out of it.” Your child doesn’t need to grow out of their hair or eye color. Neither do they need to outgrow their introversion, because it is not a personality flaw, sin, disease, or other undesirable attribute that requires repairing, fixing, or changing.

As they grow up in a social, constantly connected culture, they may learn to better balance their desire to be alone with the needs and interests of others. But they may never derive their energy from interaction with those others. Which is fine. Fine.

By now, you might be wondering what you are supposed to say to your child whose life motto might well be, “Please, do me the honor of not requesting my company.” Based on real-life research (e.g., being me), here’s what I think they’d love to hear…

What to say to your introverted child:

  • “You only have to stay 30 minutes.” Or an hour. Or whatever relatively short span of time is reasonable enough so as not to be rude. I can usually psych myself up for people-time if I know it has a definite end and is not going to stretch on ad infinitum.

Telling your introverted child “you only have to stay this long” gives them a grip on the chunk of time they’ll need to summon up a little extroversion from some recessive gene before they can recharge their solitude-fed batteries.

  • “I know this is hard.” Which is not at all the same as “I understand why this is hard.” If you are an extrovert, you may not have the slightest idea why having a tooth pulled without anesthesia sounds less painful than, say, going to a family reunion. (“Look how you’ve grown!” and “what are you doing with your life that’s exciting and impressive?” and all that.)

But you do not have to empathize to sympathize. You only have to accept that introverted is how your child is, which makes certain necessary life events uncomfortable.

  • “You are wonderful, and I love you.” Of course, this is what we all need: to know, via words and actions and expressions, that we are cherished and appreciated and treasured–not merely tolerated or accepted with resignation.

Your introvert longs to know that you will support and cheer them on while they figure out how to walk the line between doing what they want and doing what will bless and encourage others. The have to be taught that life is not all about them, of course, but at the same time, they crave reassurance that you are for them and on their side.

Reassure your son or daughter that they do not have to “convert” to extroversion in order to be valuable and valued.

Teach them that introversion is not a weakness; it is just part of their uniqueness–and that you are crazy about them just the way they are.

Or, as only the brilliant Dr. Seuss could put it, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

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Elizabeth Spencer
Elizabeth Spencer is a great sinner redeemed by a great Savior. She's been married for 22 years to an exceedingly patient husband and has two teenage daughters who make her look really good as a mother. She blogs about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and vents about hormones and sleep deprivation over on Facebook.