My Introverted Child

Thursday, July 18, 2013

When strangers, acquaintances and family members lavish Sisi with attention, she rarely reciprocates, at least not right away. I find myself making excuses for her lack of charisma.  "Oh, she's just shy."  "She's not very social right now."  "She's a little tired/grumpy/out of it today, I'm sorry."  But by now, Sisi can probably understand these excuses I'm making. And even long before she could speak, I am sure she could read my apologetic/exasperated tone and sense my embarrassment.

Just the other day, we were in the supermarket and an old man reaches out to her and says, "Hello beautiful baby!!!"  Of course, she looks down and clutches her duckie blanket as I prod her to say, "Hello!  Thank you!" to no avail.  Then I thought to myself, "Does she really need to reciprocate affection to a stranger she's never met?  In this world of pediphiles and kidnappings, is that even safe?"

I've started asking myself what kind of lessons I'm teaching Sisi with these encounters.

I'm teaching her that it's not ok to be quiet or reserved.  I'm teaching her that she must be charismatic and gregarious at all times, even toward strangers whom she has never met. I'm teaching her that any attention paid to her should be paid right back, and then some.

Those are the pressures I have put upon myself my entire life.  I am a somewhat shy, easily overstimulated introvert.  I like to be silent.  I like to be alone a lot.  I can drive for hours by myself without the radio on, just thinking and philosophizing.  I used to think that was a nerdy, shameful way to be, but I'm just now accepting that it's the way God made me.  Sure, I can schmooze at a party, make decent small talk, or sell myself to clients if need be (and I'm quite good at it I'll admit!), but those activities are not natural to me, and therefore they drain me. I find I need lots of downtime to recharge my batteries.

I remember being so jealous of my older sister, who can light up a room with her energy and storytelling.  She never seemed intimidated by crowds.  Eloquent conversation came easily to her, and she could improvise and relate well to people she just met. I am pretty much the opposite. I have a hard time socializing at cocktail parties, and I am much better at listening and asking questions that I am at talking.  In fact, I would much rather write my thoughts than say them out loud because it gives me time to think and sort out my ideas in peace.  These traits don't make me the life of the party, but they do make me a thoughtful, reflective person.  The world needs introverts.

Still, I've spent my whole life striving to be an extravert.  I've become really good at faking it.  Those who know me might be really confused by my claims of timidity.  After all, didn't I run for student government by doing a song and dance in front of the whole school?  Wasn't I a cheerleader with great stage presence?  Didn't I win the Public Speaking award in 8th grade?  Yes, by my sheer willpower to overcome my natural inclinations.

True, sometimes we just have to fake it.  Our's is an extraverted society, where charm and first impressions matter, and the squeaky wheel gets the oil.  If you stay in your shell where it's comfortable, you may be overlooked and taken advantage of. You miss opportunities.  But a few years ago, I started to realize I may have faked it too much and for too long, because I struggled with feeling like I have two personalities, and that I'm not a whole, genuine person.  I also felt like my introversion was a fatal flaw to be covered up, like I needed to just get over it and start loving parties and after-church socializing OR ELSE I'm a bad person.  I wasn't respecting my own style of relating to the world and to others, and therefore I felt burnt out.

I believe Sisi is an introvert.  She is thoughtful, incredibly observant, creative, and focused.  She can read books in her room or daydream in her sandbox for hours.  She is very cautious and conscientious.  Loud noises, new people and places can overwhelm her, so she tends to cling to me and look down at the floor when people rush toward her with their kisses and hugs. She's been this way from Day 1. It used to embarrass me, mostly because I worried that she was hurting others' feelings. But is it really my two-year-old's job to care about your feelings?  Not really. It's not like she's a bratty, too-cool-for-school kind of kid.  She can be very warm and sweet with those in her inner circle. From now on I'm going to tell her that it's okay to be quiet, reserved, and soft spoken.  Kindness and love take many forms, and they don't always have to come in a peppy, smiley package, no matter what the world tells us.

*I just read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, which prompted this whole train of thought. It's really changed my life and my self-esteem. I highly recommend it for introverts and extraverts alike!  The more we understand each other, the more we will appreciate each others' strengths. 


Rachel July 18, 2013 at 4:37 PM  

Awwwww ... Kris, I love this! As an introvert I'm in a similar position - I've always been SO JEALOUS of people who are natural extroverts. I really think you're doing the best thing. She could turn out to be an introvert who is really comfortable and confident in herself and that is wonderful. Like a warming glow rather than a bright light, maybe? Does that only make sense to me?

Also, Sisi always seems perfectly sweet to me. Nothing wrong with a kid taking some time to warm up!

Kristin @ Petal and Thorn July 18, 2013 at 5:14 PM  

@rachel- yes! a warming glow instead of a bright light. that is perfect.

Analia July 18, 2013 at 7:47 PM  

Omgsh ! Glad to know my daughter and I aren't alone !!!

Thistle July 18, 2013 at 8:47 PM  

Your daughter sounds a lot like my son at her age. I'm an introvert as is my husband, who was painfully shy as a child. When my second son arrived and showed all the traits, initially I reacted as you did and was kind of embarrassed and just not really sure what I should be doing to help him. He was the kid hiding behind a piece of furniture for the first half of playgroup, he was the child in hysterics because the police car siren whooped during the parade and the noise startled him.

I ended up simply letting him be who he is, take the time he needs to assess a situation before jumping in, help him remove or protect himself from overly loud noises etc. I omitted the word "shy" from my vocabulary and I corrected other people when they used it in his presence. I think shyness is what happens to introverts who are pushed to feel there's something wrong with them. It feels like a negative label to me. I substituted "thoughtful" because I feel like that's what my son is doing - he's thinking about things. He's looking before he leaps. I also corrected "slow to warm up" because my son isn't "slow" to do something extroverted kids are doing quickly, he's doing something extroverted kids don't do at all.

Now, at 3.5 my son is both confident and outspoken. He chats with strangers if he feels like it, he enjoys playing with other children. He's very careful and conscientious. He is observant beyond belief and incredibly insightful for a child his age. Being an introvert is just who he is and he isn't fearful or ashamed; he's never been made to feel like there's anything wrong with him. I hope he can always hang onto that. I'm glad to see more being written about introversion and it gaining acceptance as the perfectly normal and acceptable way of being that it is.

Quiet is a great eye opener. You might also want to check out Elaine Aron's The Highly Sensitive Child (which I think is mentioned briefly in Quiet). It's not about introverts exclusively, but introversion and sensitivity often seem to run together.

Em July 19, 2013 at 1:18 PM  

I love this, my son is also 'thoughtful' as Thistle puts it, and I completely agree that 'shy' is what happens when introverts are pushed.
It has been lovely seeing my dads relationship build with my son, at first he found it hard that my little one would take so long to warm up to him but when my son approached him for the first time because he wanted Grandan to look at something with him, it was all worth while. When an introverted little one seeks you out to spend their time with you, it is so special.

Sarah July 19, 2013 at 3:14 PM  

Great blog post! I agree, trying to overly encourage a child to be social when put on the spot is unnecessary. If nice strangers approach us and compliment and Samantha gets shy, in a voice that could almost be narrating for Samantha i"ll say thank you, but I don't make her say it. I figure most kids are shy for a while and some grow into being less shy. So I"ll lead by example and if she follows, great! If not, no big deal.

- Sarah

LellyT July 20, 2013 at 1:39 PM  

We do, as a society, reward extroverts - we want our kids to be precocious - first walkers, first talkers, first to join in, bold, hardy, competitive. But there is so much beauty in introverts - so many thoughts to share and issues to discuss, so much pride to take in their innate manners and respect and not needing always to be first, biggest, best, loudest, strongest. It's funny how we sometimes need to almost apologize when our kids hang back a little, or don't instantly engage in conversation with complete strangers! Well, my daughter is 24 now, and blooming in all areas of her life. She's found her voice just fine and is a wonderful, assertive, kind young woman. Hooray for introverts - the thoughtful, the kind, the quietly confident. Everyone doesn't need to roar!

Gena July 21, 2013 at 8:00 AM  

I don't think it's anything to be concerned about. I had a family that tried to mold me in their eyes, it caused a lot of pain for me and led to drug abuse. Accept her for who she is and your relationship will be wonderful and she will grow up knowing that she is great just the way she is.

sk July 23, 2013 at 7:38 AM  

Thank you for recommending that book-- I will check it out. Your description of yourself sounds EXACTLY like me (minus the student gov't and cheerleading!). I am pretty good at faking being talkative and outgoing, but social encounters are extremely exhausting for me. Even just hanging out with a friend that I adore is something that I only have the energy for every week or so. I require LOTS of alone time and truly enjoy being by myself. My 11 month old daughter seems to be introverted as well, though I think it's too soon to tell, and my husband is extremely extroverted. My daughter is very cautious, and she was very quiet and still when she was growing inside of me, so I think it's safe to believe she'll be at least a little like me :)
Have you read The Highly Sensitive Child/ Highly Sensitive Person? I admit I haven't read them yet but they've been recommended to me by various people over the years.

sk July 23, 2013 at 7:40 AM  

Oh, and I meant to add that I think your new approach to teaching Sisi is great! I know exactly what you mean-- it's so easy to make excuses for your child or try to get them to engage with strangers, and feel embarrassed when they don't respond. I find myself doing that all the time! Thanks for pointing out this issue-- I hadn't really thought about it. From here on out, I hope to be a good role model for her in this regard, by engaging in friendly conversation with strangers where appropriate, but NOT pushing her to do the same unless she wants to.

Freckles Chick August 5, 2013 at 4:10 PM  

Such a great post, K! I'm very much the same way & have fooled my friends into thinking I'm an extrovert. ;-) Perhaps this is why I enjoy blogging & social media--I get to meet amazing people (mostly) w/out the pressure, HA.

Quinn is cautious & shy in new situations & w/ strangers. She's like the carbon copy of Sisi! Reading your post really hits it home. I used to have the same reaction to her clinginess but now I'm actually proud of her for it. We jokingly call it her "judge-y-ness". ;-)

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