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Will your introverted child be successful?

The difference between extroverts and introverts

For some children, walking into a lunchroom filled with their peers is a thrill. For others, this can be overwhelming or even terrifying.

How your child responds to a social situation like lunchtime at school depends largely on the temperament she is born with - commonly known as introversion and extroversion. Often combined with personality types, introversion and extroversion are innate temperaments that shape how children process their environment and interact with others.

What’s the difference?
"Extroverts thrive on being around other people and feeding off of their energy," says Sarah Gugluizza, a licensed clinical social worker with a private therapy practice in Stone Ridge. "They seek out situations where they are around others and present as talkative, sociable, enthusiastic, friendly and outgoing."  

Introverts, on the other hand, thrive on being by themselves and remaining in their own inner world. "They appear to be quieter, reserved, introspective and imaginative," Gugluizza says.  

Extroverts tend to make friends easily and are active in team sports and extracurriculars. "They are willing to share thoughts and ideas, are good at problem-solving and working in groups, very good at displaying and discussing their emotions, and take on leadership roles," Gugluizza says.

Introverts rely on themselves for problem-solving and spend a lot of time thinking and developing feelings and ideas. "They are able to understand themselves and others, are self-aware and reflective, and have their own value system internally and aren't as vulnerable to peer pressure," says Gugluizza. She also says they tend to be good listeners with long attention spans.

Nourish both temperaments
Despite these differences, neither temperament is more desirable than the other. What really matters is how the temperament is nourished according to Dr. Nicholas Batson, division lead for psychiatry at Crystal Run Healthcare.

"If a parent and child have different temperaments, it's important to help parents understand what the child needs," he says. "Introverts may need to sit in their rooms and read a book for 20 minutes to decompress when they get home from school. Extroverts may want to run around the block, play with friends or tell their parents all about their day."

When siblings have different temperaments from one another, they thrive when parents spend one-on-one time with each of them and develop nurturing relationships tailored to their individual needs. Danielle Powell, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist at One Village Counseling in Kingston, once worked with a child with multiple siblings who all thrived at team sports, though she herself did not enjoy them. "She found herself feeling alone, different or like something was wrong," Powell says. "Every child has an interest out there waiting to be found. They just might need some help discovering what that may be."

Though it can be frustrating at times for parents to understand children who have different temperaments than their own, understanding that natural-born temperament is the reason behind some decisions and behaviors can ultimately help parents develop stronger relationships with their kids.

"Meeting a child where they are, and seeing them for who they are, speaks volumes to the child," Powell says.

Manage misconceptions
There are several common misconceptions about temperament that can affect how outsiders see children in both groups. People often think that introverts are shy or anxious, or wonder if extroverts have a hyperactivity disorder like ADHD.

"Often that's not it - it's just that they each have particular ways of self-soothing and interacting with the world," Dr. Batson says.

Regardless of which temperament a child possesses, parents can ensure they flourish by serving as role models in good decision-making and helping them
understand optimal behavior in different situations. A particularly extroverted child, for example, may need a parent's guidance in learning that running around is perfect for the soccer field, but not so much for the library. Sometimes extroverts may also be so energetic and talkative that they miss social cues or are disruptive in their classrooms. These are behaviors that parents can help them recognize and work on.

For introverts, spending too much time in large groups can drain their energy and make them cranky or zone out. Given that, parents should keep in mind that a birthday sleepover with twenty kids may not be enjoyable for the child and look for smaller group alternatives.

Introverts may also need more help navigating social situations
that make them feel anxious or overwhelmed. If they dread the lunchroom, parents can coach them to pick one or two friends to try to sit with and help them come up with conversation starters. "It can be as simple as suggesting they say 'Hey, what do you think of the lunch today?'" says Dr. Batson.

Of course, these temperaments do not mean that only introverts enjoy reading alone or taking quiet walks or that only extroverts like to socialize in big groups and play team sports. "While extroverted children may be more inclined to group activities such as team sports or social gatherings, children who lean towards introversion may also find these activities enjoyable if they are given time before and after to regroup on their own," says Powell.

It's your job to embrace and push your child
Although it's always important to embrace children's natural temperament, there are times when parents may need to push them to step outside of their comfort zone. "Encouraging a highly introverted child to participate in a group setting or social activity (in small doses) can help them learn more about themselves and how to navigate different situations," says Powell. "A child who may be highly extroverted may benefit from being taught about others' needs for alone time, and having them practice quiet time themselves," she adds.

And if you're concerned that your child is at a disadvantage because he is of one temperament or another, you can relax. Temperament stays with children as they grow up, but it does not seem to have a negative impact on the people they become.

"A study last year looked at long-term outcomes for both introverts and extroverts," says Dr. Batson. "It found no significant difference. Both groups turned out just fine."

Elora Tocci is a local freelance writer