What's it like to be an introvert?
November 1, 2017 9:56 PM   Subscribe

Hyper-extrovert, adventuring parent here with a *gasp* introverted child. Want to not torment him too much, please share with me what it's like to be a book-worm, shy, introvert, mellow kind of person, as well as what it was like as a child.

Tips on books/blogs on introverts are welcome, but also ideas around what you were keen on as an introverted kid yourself and how you experienced the world is useful too.
posted by Toddles to Human Relations (51 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
For me, The biggest thing is getting extroverts to listen to my introvert cues! Introverts tire from the things that make extroverts energetic, so no "I'm really done" does not translate into let's spend the next 30 minutes saying goodbye. It means I'm exhausted and need to go now.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:02 PM on November 1, 2017 [48 favorites]

Imagine hanging out is like doing a good workout where it feels great in the moment, but after a while you want to stop doing it, and you definitely don't want to be doing it all the time.
posted by karmachameleon at 10:08 PM on November 1, 2017 [36 favorites]

So, first thing: Introverts are just people who need alone time to recharge. Shyness is separate. Bookworm is separate. Social awkwardness is separate. They may feed on each other in certain contexts, but they are not interchangeable terms or states.

Also, introversion/extroversion is a continuum, not a single state of being. How are you determining your kid is introverted vs shy/awkward/anxious/other thing? (You don't have to answer here, but think about what you think you know about your kid, and about introverts, and why you assign that status.)

I had friends when I was a kid and I was a bookworm, and I was shy sometimes but not always, and I could and can only take so much Being with People before I get really irritable. I was an imaginative kid and good at entertaining myself (in the days long before video games and internet) with drawing or making doll houses out of cardboard boxes or playing by the stream across the street from our apartment. I lived (still do) in my head a lot.

On preview: Yeah, for me as well, when I am Done Being with People, I am DONE. As an adult, I am better at controlling my reactions and behavior (mostly), but when I'm done, I really do need some no-talking-no-interacting-no-really time before I can be with people again.
posted by rtha at 10:09 PM on November 1, 2017 [62 favorites]

I remember finding a birthday party thrown in my honor as ... being no fun at all. Something about: an unusual number of people focusing on me all at once, where there was this pressure for me to smile and be happy and act a certain way with every person there. I remember hiding in the bathroom to cope the 2 times it happened (my parents caught on quick).

Even worse were/are surprise parties.

Meeting new kids: it was nice when I wasn’t poked and prodded by adults to “go make friends; why aren’t you off playing with them; GO!” It was more likely I’d go play when there were kids together at a gathering left to our own devices. Sometimes I’d hang out and observe, sometimes I’d join them quickly or eventually.
posted by phonebia at 10:23 PM on November 1, 2017 [19 favorites]

There are as many different flavors of introvert as there are stars in the galaxy. We don't stay one way as we grow, either, and it all intersects with our experiences and how we learn from them. As a parent you're hopefully going to be able to observe your kid more closely than anyone else in their life for a while and that means you'll have a better idea of how to be with them and encourage them to be happy than any internet strangers. I say above all just listen to them and don't try to project your feelings onto them - let their words and body language and responses to things lead you to the best way to be kind and encourage them as their own person.

One thing you can try to figure out is how they feel about different kinds of crowds. I'm an introvert who loves to be in crowds - it's a form of anonymity that lets me feel like part of a larger thing, and I really like seeing all the little details and differences in all the people around me. But it can't be too regimented - I love going to outdoor markets, minor league baseball games, fan-run conventions for nerd things, and medium sized concerts, but I hate major league games in giant slick stadiums, huge concerts, or professional conventions. And if it's too small and intimate, like a meetup group for professionals or an intimate performance at a coffeeshop, I'm back to being stressed out again because then I have to be "on" since I'm not in a big enough crowd to blend in.

My best friend is a different sort of introvert to me - he hates anything bigger than about 8 people in a room, and just sort of forces himself to endure such things in order to get things he needs to be alone comfortably. But he spends entire days in small group collaborative settings and is happy that way, not overly drained. I don't understand how he does it - but in a small crowd he usually waits to speak until he had something important or especially pithy to say, whereas I'm a noisy chatterbox in a small group. We both need tons of time by ourselves, though, and are definitely introverts. Just, in our own ways. Your kid is going to be different too, but you can pay attention to how they respond to different sizes and types of crowds and plan activities and errands accordingly.
posted by Mizu at 10:25 PM on November 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

A great book on this is Quiet by Susan Cain.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:31 PM on November 1, 2017 [12 favorites]

I think it's important to recognize that the very process of going to school all day, or to day care, involves zero privacy and lots of noise and people. Not necessarily people you like. Kids, especially the introverts, can be quite psychologically exhausted at the end of the day. Other kids want their attention, and teachers want them to toe the line and constantly explain themselves. As adults, we know we have the right to proclaim ourselves wiped out after work, but we have to remember that kids can feel the same way.

One of my kids is more of an extrovert and one is more of an introvert. After attending summer day camp each day, the introvert would go sit in the dark in her closet on top of the dresser and pull the accordion doors closed. It was usually about half an hour before she was ready to interact with the family. But she was perfectly sweet and pleasant after.
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:07 PM on November 1, 2017 [41 favorites]

Being an introvert as a kid, for me, meant being happier reading a book on a balcony during a family vacation, than going on a boat trip with the family. Since not going on the boat trip was not an option ( or, insert many similar events over the years) I did my best to be "on" but I was unconvincing. In particular the question, "are you having fun?" came (and comes) across to me as a demand that I confirm that I was/am indeed overjoyed by being able to participate in x event. The reality is that having to interact with a bunch of people all day in a non-work related setting like that is, well, work. If it were a boat ride with one or two close friends it would be an entirely different matter. Then I would feel free to relax and observe, and in that way, have fun. It's that my idea of fun is, well, quiet, that creates friction among people who think I am being sullen, rude, ungrateful, what have you, especially when I feel forced to confirm all the fun I'm having in a noisy and verbal way.
posted by Crystal Fox at 11:25 PM on November 1, 2017 [19 favorites]

I would say, don’t assume that introversion/extroversion necessarily means they enjoy certain activities. I have known extroverts who read voraciously, and then wanted to talk about those books for hours; and I’ve known introverts who were enthusiastic performers, or played team sports very well, and then wanted to get away and be alone rather than go to the after party. If your kid is an introvert, give them all the same opportunities to pursue a wide variety of activities. Just also give them a chance to be alone when they need it.
posted by fencerjimmy at 11:28 PM on November 1, 2017 [18 favorites]

I'm 43 and I'm still mad about my parents making me do things. I just wanted to be left alone. I also always hated school, so if there had been any way to make that better for me that would have helped.
posted by Violet Hour at 11:29 PM on November 1, 2017 [11 favorites]

I just wanted people to chill out about me and stop acting like I was broken. I had a few very close friends, maybe 2 or 3 at the most, and I was perfectly fine with that. I was also truly, genuinely happy spending a lot of my time by myself. There was a lot of hand-wringing by teachers (and even my parents, introverts themselves, I think they were persuaded by the teachers) about "oh she doesn't have many friends." I was asked how I felt about that. I said all was fine, because I had a couple people who were so close that it wasn't so exhausting to be around them, and that was all I wanted. No one would believe me.

School DRAINED me. I absolutely needed quiet time pretty much every day to be functional. (Still do.) Even situations I liked were exhausting. My parents came very near banning me from slumber parties because of how awful I would be afterward, even when I'd had a lovely time - I just needed alone time to decompress.

I also spent a ton of time alone in my room, which some adults find strange or alarming in kids. They might think they're up to no good, or upset, or something is wrong or needs to be fixed. Nothing was wrong, that was honestly one of my favorite ways to spend my time, alone in my room daydreaming. (Still is.)

Basically, society has this model of "healthy child" and that model is extremely outgoing, energetic, social, etc. Children who don't fit that mold are often worried about, but there are plenty of times when that's not a sign of a problem, and even if you recognize that it's just their unique personality, you might find yourself having to defend your child from well-meaning people who don't know any better trying to get them "out of their shell." Remind those people what usually happens when things that live in shells are forced to leave them.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 11:32 PM on November 1, 2017 [32 favorites]

Don’t keep asking them how the introverted feelings are going just now and what they’d prefer to do about it.
posted by Segundus at 11:33 PM on November 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

An introverted child may not recognize that they're hitting "people burnout," and instead may attach their tiredness/ sadness/ crankiness to whatever event happened just before they noticed they're no longer having fun. ("I liked the party until they all started playing that game I don't like." - Child may not be aware that party had been going on for three hours, and child was going to want to leave no matter what was suggested next.)

I read a lot. A lot a lot. Get in trouble at school, a lot. (Teachers supposedly like kids who read, but they don't like kids who read so fast they've finished what everyone else in the class is reading, and go back to their own book.) I was not remotely interested in sports, especially anything involving teams. That's not a directly introvert trait, but there's a lot of package deals: Recharges alone rather than in crowds; likes intellectual pursuits; dislikes athletic activity and team games. But as mentioned, there's no requirement that those traits go together.

Most of "parenting an introvert child" is, watch for their mood shifts, because they may not notice when they've become unhappy in a situation. And if they do, they may try to figure out what's wrong with them - everyone else is happy; why aren't they? Give them the vocabulary to understand and explain their feelings: are you tired? Do you need some quiet time? Would you rather join the other kids, or stay inside and just watch for a while?
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:36 PM on November 1, 2017 [16 favorites]

As a child, I was shy, awkward, and introverted. As an adult, I'm just introverted.

I really appreciated not being over scheduled as a child. Even one weeknight activity per week was enough. Knowyournuts is spot on about just having to go to school all day as being exhausting to an introvert.

I still need time to recuperate after social time. I don't like going out too many evenings a week, especially with people I don't know well. Close friends and family don't drain me as quickly and neither do small groups like one or maybe two other people. When I am "peopled out," I get short-tempered and anxious.

But I do actually enjoy being social! I just don't need to do it very often, or for endless amounts of time. One thing that's really important to me is being able to leave when I have had enough, and this is something I usually have more control of as an adult that I didn't as a child. You would be doing your introverted child a blessing if you could provide them with a judgment free option to absent themselves from an activity when they've had enough. Whether that's actually leaving or just the permission to go be by themselves depends on each situation, but do try if you can!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:37 PM on November 1, 2017 [10 favorites]

Just to add one more thing: It's very common for extroverts to perceive nearby introverts as unhappy, sad, angry, annoyed, sullen, aloof, rude, depressed, etc.

Most of the time, quiet is just quiet.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 11:38 PM on November 1, 2017 [42 favorites]

You would be doing your introverted child a blessing if you could provide them with a judgment free option to absent themselves from an activity when they've had enough.

Yes! When I was a teenager and finally had a cell phone, my dad and I had a signal, I'd text him and he'd call me and pretend to be angry and demand that I come home straight away. He played the "bad guy" so that I could leave any situation any time when I really needed to without "losing face." I still remember that as one of the best things he ever did for me.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 11:39 PM on November 1, 2017 [47 favorites]

Here's a link that describes fairly well what it feels like when an introvert is peopled out (aka introvert overload).

When the tipping point comes for me, it's usually after a period of buildup where I knew I was pushing it but didn't/couldn't get the alone time I needed to recharge.

I remember after several hectically social days in a row, I was at an event I had to be at (as a board member) and I just...snapped internally. A voice in my lizard brain screamed YOU NEED TO LEAVE NOW and I stopped mid-conversation, said, "I'm sorry, I need to go now," grabbed my coat and left.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:59 PM on November 1, 2017 [18 favorites]

Yep re looking sullen, serious etc - I've had that since 5 (now 53), many people think I'm VERY serious, but I look this way whether happy or not, or just involved in a task, so I've learned to act a bit - pretty much anything social about me feels like an act. But it works well and I tend to be more than okay at sales, presentations etc., but I don't mingle, lead, follow or congregate well.

I avoid group events where there's lots of small talk. Social business events are okay as there's a reason to be there and talk is real. And now I work for myself, on my own - something I've dreamt of and worked towards for years. One thing I have started doing is having an office in a curated shared office space - it's great - we don't work for or with each other so the pressure's off - don't know how this could be applied to a child though.

Yes plenty of 'free to be alone time' is very important. And being exposed to lots of things (but at least in my case, not encouraged too much - that has always turned me off any interest - I think I always had a need to be self-directed, altho' unsure if this is an only/introvert thing).

gloriouslyincandescent - you were indeed blessed in your dad being your friend.
posted by unearthed at 2:42 AM on November 2, 2017

I'm fairly introverted (hsp too. meh), but that doesn't mean i don't like parties, going camping with peeps, seeing a gig etc. – introverted doesn't necessarily mean i'm always hella shy or a hermit. ha. like i work in a bar on the weekends. but i do feel at my strongest (or more 'extroverted') at smaller, more intimate things, when i feel comfortable/around familiar people.

I do though, love (and need) time to unwind in a quiet space and not have to talk to anyone. As a kid, i think it would have been awesome to be sometimes allowed more options, like "do you feel like going to the zoo or....or x? or you wanna stay home alone, order takeout and read a book all day (heaven, btw)?" or at least let me know that i can leave earlier (which is a relief) – because it varies day to day, how much you're feeling up to.

my mom was always a little worried cuz i was so happy doodling or whatever solo for hours when i was a kid, and she'd sort of check in like "hun, you good?" and i was like. yup. and she'd be okay with that. i think the key thing is to not pester a human constantly if they're doing something on their own. it doesn't mean they automatically feel lonely.

i'm lucky because my closest friends are also more on the introvert-side, with a few uberextroverts that get that i need a some off time too – love them all equally.
posted by speakeasy at 3:49 AM on November 2, 2017 [5 favorites]

For me as an introverted child the most annoying thing were extroverts that seemed unable to have a good time unless I was participating in something that held no appeal to me, and this making me a bad guy. There I'd be with a great book, some good tunes, sitting in some perfect shade, having an amazing time and then it'd be "Come and do X and have fun!" Not just the fact that I was being disturbed, but that I was made to feel guilty as the extroverts needed to rope me in to their activities for them to feel good. Obviously sometimes one has to do things that that one doesn't want to to in terms of socialising, parties, trips etc. due to obligation, mores, growth and development- just don't try to tell me that it is "fun" when it is in fact the cost of doing business until I can get back to what is for me actually fun.

I'm sure that the injunctions to "come have fun" came from a place of love and simply not understanding that for me it was the opposite of fun. Great that you are recognising the possible differences between you and the child. In a nut shell- believe them when they tell you that they are enjoying themselves, even if it is not what you'd consider enjoyable.
posted by Gratishades at 3:58 AM on November 2, 2017 [25 favorites]

When I was 12 or so, my dad came up to my room one night very concerned. Had they done something wrong? Why wasn’t I downstairs with the rest of the family? It had been several nights in a row — was I mad at them? And I was shocked! No, I explained, I’m up here doing a jigsaw puzzle and last night I was reading this amazing book! I’m having fun!

Being a good dad, he said, oh! And left me to it.

As an adult with an introverted partner, we often find ourselves doing solo activities in the same room. With kids, they refer to this as “parallel play”. It’s so much more enjoyable and relaxing for me than things like team sports!

And I’ve come to realize as an adult that this sort of thing would have really changed gym class when I was a child. Dodgeball, baseball, soccer... all about group interactions that confused and tired me. I was great at skipping and tree climbing and riding bikes though! Solo sports like weights and rowing could have been better fits for me too. Gym class is often built around group activities for ease of the teacher, and this isn’t always a good fit for introverted kids.
posted by sadmadglad at 4:08 AM on November 2, 2017 [8 favorites]

Introversion is easier to understand and live with when you’re an adult. When you’re a kid, it’s hard, especially as you get into elementary and middle school; extroverted kids dominate everything, and there’s no way to opt out.

I was (and am) also very shy, and while it’s important to make the distinction between that and introversion, it can be hard to tell the two apart from outside, and a lot of times they can produce the same effect.

Introverts need regular alone time to just do their thing. Shy people do well with lower-stakes social settings: small groups, with people outside of their daily environment (i.e. not the classmates they already see and don’t talk to every day), with a shared interest to use as a jumping-off point. One of the best things my parents did for me as a kid was enroll me in theater classes with kids from the other side of town.

Either way, don’t force him into something he’s not. Provide opportunities for him to choose to be social, but let him make the choice. He will have to learn to get by in an extroverted world, and that means learning when and how to fake extroversion, but that’s not something you can formally train - he’ll get the experience just by being around others.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:16 AM on November 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm an introvert and I recommend this article.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:32 AM on November 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

I too am an extrovert parenting an introvert. I was going to recommend Quiet by Susan Cain but see that it was already recommended above. It gave me enormous insight into my son's personality. He also read it and said it was helpful in giving recommendations on how to navigate the extrovert-valuing society we live in.

I also found myself in the position of protecting my son from the extroverted society. Once when he was in high school, I got a call from the school social worker who said she was concerned about his lack of interaction with his fellow students. She said he didn't hang out with other kids during lunch and she wanted to put him into a special program to try to fix that. I pretty much read her the riot act over the phone. I told her that shyness is not a character flaw, it is a character trait. I also told her to leave him alone. I mentioned that interaction later that day to my son and he didn't say anything at the time. However, some years later he mentioned it and said how grateful he was that I stuck up for him that way.

What I learned to do (and still need to be reminded of from time to time) was to let him be who he is. It will be a great gift you can give your child.
posted by eleslie at 5:38 AM on November 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

I totally agree with allowing them the time and space to be alone when needed. However, I kind of wish my parents had pushed me into being a bit more social when I was younger. After 11/12 when I was allowed some say in how I spent my free time I remember mostly taking the (for me) easy option of staying home and looking back I feel like I missed out on quite a lot. It was just too easy for me to stay within my comfort zone. Nowadays I know that even though certain kinds of social event might be difficult and tiring for me it will be worth it in the end and so I force myself to go.

It's definitely all about finding the right balance and as an adult I can do that for myself. As a kid I wasn't so good and a little push would have helped me form better habits.
posted by neilb449 at 5:46 AM on November 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

I was struck by your "adventuring extrovert" phrasing. Both as a kid exploring forest trails and as an adult exploring strange cities, I've had lots of adventures, mostly solo but also with a few friends. Don't make the mistake of thinking introverts have to stay home reading or playing video games all the time (though I've certainly done more than my share of both!). We might not want/need/tolerate as much social time as others, but there's lots of cool stuff to do alone too.
posted by randomnity at 6:23 AM on November 2, 2017 [20 favorites]

Bookworm tip: if you have a question for your kid while they are reading, and it's a question and not something urgent like, "The house is on fire! Get out now!" then let them get to their stopping place before you actually engage them.

So, for instance do this:

You: *sees kid reading* "Sam, I have a question for you."
Kid: "Alright, let me finish the page."
You: *waits*
Kid: "Okay, what did you want to ask me?"

You'll get much more productive answers that way than if you did something like this:

You: *sees kid reading* "Have you gotten your clothes ready for soccer practice tomorrow?"
posted by colfax at 6:31 AM on November 2, 2017 [17 favorites]

I wanted to chime in about not conflating introversion with shyness— I’m extremely outgoing and social and I can have fun at parties with lots of people, and literally no one would ever describe me as shy— but I can’t do it two nights in a row, and I probably need a few days of alone time to recover. If your son is indeed shy, then that is something separate from introversion.

One thing that drove me crazy as a kid (and for the rest of my life) was my mother would often take my desire to be quiet and alone as a rejection of her and of her interests. She looooooooved doing things where she would talk to lots of strangers, and she loved being outside and gardening (which also led to her talking to lots of people in our neighborhood and also more strangers). She never quite got to a place where she could understand that my distaste for both of these activities had nothing to do with her, or with my desire to spend time with her. But it was like she made engaging with these activities into a condition of being with her, and that was really frustrating. It was only much later in life that she made a real effort to try to engage with me in activities that I found more bearable, instead of always expecting me to come to her on her terms.

I have extrovert friends now who sometimes still worry that me saying no to invitations is a rejection of them rather than self-preservation, so since you’re the grownup, I would say that a very loving thing to do would be for you to work on understanding that your son wanting to be alone is NOT equivalent to him not wanting to be with you.

(Also being talked to without any warning in the middle of reading feels like being slapped awake, and having someone do it to you multiple times is a huge part of why so many readers choose to hide away in rooms and cocoons and places where people can't bother them. I would happily read around other people if I could trust them to respect it and not keep interrupting me for questions and topics that seem like talking for talking's sake instead of anything serious or necessary.)
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:50 AM on November 2, 2017 [17 favorites]

One thing that has worked for me and others in groups of people wanting to be "alone together" is respecting the headphones signal. Especially these days when so much reading is done on a device where it's not outwardly obvious if you're reading something that deserves attention or perusing the latest batch of cute puppy pictures, there's no overt signal to leave a person alone when they're reading like a fat tome in their hands.

So what has sort of naturally occurred is if one of us is sitting among the group but is wearing headphones, we need to get their attention and wait for them to come to a good stopping point, at which point they remove their headphones. Or, if we're sitting doing an activity near someone with headphones but we aren't wearing any, that means "feel free to come talk to me".

The particular scenario I've lived the most is when I get together with a biggish group of nerds to play boardgames and geek out for a weekend, a yearly tradition for us. A good chunk of us get burned out by the end of the first day if we're all playing games with each other constantly. But it turns out that if we put on headphones, playing either just white noise or mellow tunes or even nothing at all, and sit near the other folks who are gaming, and organically rotate in and out like that, we can all spend tons more quality time together over the weekend. Of course then I need at least two weeks to recharge before going out again, but that's tons better than the confused breakdowns I used to have.

Oh, also, a thing I realized about growing up was that my parents always put me "in charge" of one or two particular things during holidays. For example, for thanksgiving I was "in charge" of cranberry sauce, napkin folding, and table decorations. For Sukot I arranged and later made the veggie platter, which naturally evolved from how I coveted olives when very little - if I arranged the platter I could have as many olives as I wanted. I was always "in charge" of something I liked or cared about (I love folding napkins, a lost art!) and it was never something beyond my skill at a given age. This gave me something to focus on when the house swarmed with people I didn't know or like or care about, and something to say to them, too. And when my thing ran low - or if I needed to escape I could claim it needed a refresh - I could run off to the kitchen and take as much time as I needed to be elsewhere.

So if you're prone to having gatherings and parties at your place, give your kid discreet tasks that grownups can compliment them on, go-to reasons to leave the group and spend some time in a quieter room, and a clear way to signal visually that they're focused and don't mean to be rude but please let them pay attention to this other thing, thanks.
posted by Mizu at 7:34 AM on November 2, 2017 [7 favorites]

Like others, I am an introvert who is not shy. I do sales presentations, public speaking, acting. I like performing. I hate small talk. I crave quiet time alone. One of my kids is more extroverted, and even as an infant overwhelmed me with his need for my presence. My other kid is more like me, and therefore seems very mature for her age, as she is content to play alone for long stretches. Her preschool teachers asked me to work with her on participating during class time. She wasn't being disruptive, but was declining to talk during sharing time. It is tremendously stressful as an introvert to be required to share something personal about yourself with a group of strangers just because it's "sharing time". I think it is a great skill that at three she could be clear that she was not comfortable doing that, and it's an important skill for her to keep as she grows, so I didn't want to train her out of that. There are lots of small things like that while growing up that extroverts probably don't even notice, so when you have parent teacher conferences and they point out things that are counter to your son's personality but convenient for the teacher or society, consider whether it is really a benefit to override your child's natural tendencies. An adult who can know their preferences and politely stick to them is rare. A girl who can say no to something that makes her uncomfortable even when an authority figure is asking her to do it is a girl who can be more self-protective than one who learns to do whatever she's told.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:34 AM on November 2, 2017 [16 favorites]

I am a not-shy introvert. As a kid, my two main activities were horseback riding and flute lessons. Horseback riding was small group, and flute lessons were individual. These were much more fun than team sports.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 7:36 AM on November 2, 2017

I would definitely recommend finding your kid some introverted friends and family members to bond with .

Also avoid situations such as this:
About a year ago I happened to be with a group of adults who were watching one of the family kids playing by himself outside. They remarked how awful and sad it was, then forced one of the other kids to go outside with him, to "keep him company".

Mind you, the first kid seemed to be enjoying himself and showed no sign of being distressed or unhappy. Luckily the other kid forced to join him was a known family member, so it wasn't a big deal to the first kid.

But you see how that group of fucking adults made the introverted kid seem like a freak to other family members, even kids of similar age? Don't do that. Be your child's advocate and protector, explain that they're fine, just different and others should respect and honor that difference.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:52 AM on November 2, 2017 [9 favorites]

My mother was flabbergasted when she found that "sending me to my room" was not even close to a punishment. I never had a group of friends larger than four (usually 1 or 2) over to play at any one time; the smartest move my parents ever made was offering a birthday weekend for 1 friend rather than a party for 20. Those where some of the most memorable times of my childhood. Allow your child to say "no" to activities, but do not say no for them-
posted by Mr. Metaphor at 7:59 AM on November 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

My mom did a couple things that really didn't work for me but it took me a really long time to figure out what was happening.

(1) I was a precocious music student. My older brother was in piano lessons, and from the age I could even reach the keys I'd sit down and pick out the stuff he'd been practicing. When I was 5 my parents basically bullied his piano teacher into taking me on, but that meant whenever they had company mom would basically force me to play for them. I hated that and came up with lots of ways to make it not happen or not last long. I now know enough about my mother to know this was bundled up in her extreme vanity (it was less about me and more the fact I was hers) but back then all I knew was that I was being put on display. A recital I had known about and prepared for was fine, but a command performance wasn't.

(2) Mom is bad at friendship herself. As a result she tried to force me into friendships with the children of people who were important to her (who may not have been true friends, just temporarily useful ones). She made lots of playdates with kids I didn't like, up until I got into a fight with her about one that she wouldn't cancel ("I didn't know you didn't like him." "Yes, you did. I tell you every time.") Shortly before his mom was supposed to pick me up I said I was going to play outside, and I went up the block and hid. In retrospect I don't think I actually hid very well, but anyway: they called my name and looked for me for a while, and after they gave up I heard mom make an excuse. I think I was grounded for a week (maybe even two) but she never scheduled a playdate without asking me after that.

What I take away from both of those things was that I needed agency in the decisions and/or plans that were being made for me. I might still agree to something, but I needed to be asked, and I needed not to be put on the spot.
posted by fedward at 8:05 AM on November 2, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'm a mid-40s introvert and absolutely can't stand it when people try to coerce me into emotional expression/conversations...try not to force your child to do that. You can ask, but if they say they are fine, believe they are fine and don't need cajoling. My brother is also an introvert, and I was happiest playing with him - we built forts in the woods, played soccer and boardgames, and then retreated to our rooms and read. I couldn't stand being read to once I could read - I just wanted to read, alone. Check in with your child, but if trying some new activity that appeals to you doesn't to them, let it go. Don't assume they're going to be a book worm. I had a few close friends and it was plenty (and still is). People are often exhausting if you're introverted, especially in big groups. I agree on the interruptions while reading - it's maddening. Learn to check in but then leave your child alone, and don't take it as rejection. Try to get other people to respect them for who they are and do the same. A couple articles to read.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 8:20 AM on November 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

I am still quite the introvert and my Mother pushed me to do a lot of things I didn't like. However, it did help me learn how to manage situations and how to adapt. For me now, its nice to have the option to do something or not. I know if I need to, I can put on my big girl pants and muscle through. I am also a big advocate of recharge time after a busy day or activity.
posted by PJMoore at 8:36 AM on November 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you have big family parties or holidays, tell him it's okay to go off alone for awhile and defend that to your family members. When we had family over all day, I hated that I couldn't slink away without someone cajoling me about "hiding". You will definitely encounter people who find it very rude that a child wants an hour alone amid 6+ hours of socializing, especially if you're at someone else's house, and you should stand up for them. (This may also come up with well-meaning relatives that rarely get to see your child, so for them they want to see them ALL DAY, but your kid doesn't see it that way.)
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:40 AM on November 2, 2017 [7 favorites]

One thing that jumps to mind is that I have always had an aversion to activities that could be broadly described as "mandatory fun." Fortunately, this sort of thing is quite easy to avoid in adulthood. But when you're a kid there's a lot of it: classmates' birthday parties; school trips; organized extracurriculars. To this day, I can't stand theme parks and want nothing to do with Halloween. This isn't entirely due to introversion, but I do think part of it is the way these things call back to childhood memories of mandatory fun.

I also really like being alone and am quite good at entertaining myself. As a kid, I spent a lot of time in imaginary worlds; when I was a little older, I used to take very long bike-rides by myself. I had friends and played outside, too, but I was often happy to do my own thing.

Also, I want to nth what everyone is saying about introversion being a spectrum and not always the same thing as shyness. You probably would not peg me for an introvert if you met me - I am generally friendly and opinionated. I have a loud voice. I usually like parties. But I need, and actively enjoy, my alone time. That's the key thing to remember.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:47 AM on November 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm in the opposite situation: introvert parent with extrovert child. Maybe it won't cross your mind, because it certainly doesn't occur to my child, but there is nothing wrong with silence in the house. Sure it's nice to hear singing, chatting, laughing, radio, TV, music etc., but not all the time. Give your child some silence - not only in their room, but also in the house, or during dinner or family time together, at least sometimes. They may enjoy your company, but not necessarily the noise.
posted by gakiko at 9:07 AM on November 2, 2017 [11 favorites]

*gasp* an introvert

Exactly the sort of thing an introvert doesn't need, or want, to hear.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:47 AM on November 2, 2017 [5 favorites]

There were two things that had a profoundly negative effect on me when I was an introverted child: being forced to be "charming" at parties and gatherings, and summer camp.

As to the first, my mother would get super embarrassed if we went over to someone's house and I didn't feel like interacting that much with others; I guess she thought it reflected badly on her as a parent. I'm sure no one else cared; they probably just figured I was a shy child and didn't think much of it. Nevertheless, every single time we went visiting, she would give me a lecture along the lines of, "You will not sit in the corner at this party. You will be charming [yes, she actually used that word] and you will talk to people." Of course, that had very little effect on me other than to make me feel more self-conscious, and made me feel like I was a horrible disappointment to her. I bring this up because while I'm sure your "*gasp*" above was meant to be a light-hearted comment, it still made me sit up just a bit straighter. The last thing introverts need to hear is that there's something wrong with them, or that they're embarrassing their parents.

As to the second, I was sent to eight-week sleep away camp every summer from the time I was ten until the time I was 16. It was torture. You had to sleep in a room with a dozen other kids and you were allowed not one minute of time alone. Literally not one minute (except when you were in the bathroom, and even then, you were in a stall with other kids outside using the sink or whatever). I don't know if sleep-away camp is part of your family tradition, but if it is, your child's introversion something to consider. I would have been thrilled as a child if my parents had looked for alternatives.
posted by holborne at 10:32 AM on November 2, 2017 [10 favorites]

My recollections of being an introverted kid:

At sleepovers, I was sick of everyone by morning.

I spent a lot of time in my own head, doing quiet, solitary things like art, enjoying nature, reading, and writing.

I hated chaotic, uncontrolled environments.
posted by sugarbomb at 11:49 AM on November 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

ooh this thread reminded me!
so, i went and married a pretty solid 75% extrovert - the other 25% he spends building bikes in the garage. anyway, the other day were at this coffee shop, waiting in line. and i spy this couple sitting off in the corner, with big steaming mugs, both completely absorbed in their own books. i just watched them thinking, 'what a perfect date.' hub notices me lost in thought, then notices them too, and is legit taken aback. he then exclaims 'whoo that must be the most boring date i've ever seen.'
ha yeah. but i legit love him tho, cant help it.
posted by speakeasy at 1:40 PM on November 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

FWIW, I liked summer camp. I disliked a lot of the scheduled activities, which involved oversharing and teamwork, but I didn't mind sleeping in a cabin with other kids, and was fairly oblivious to whether there was "alone time" - as far as I cared, if I had a book, I had alone time. But a camp that pushed for more participation would've bothered me.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:56 PM on November 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

While I think the experience of being an introverted kid has been well and truly covered above, I would say that an occasional gentle nudge to do some social things can be helpful in the right context. Like, even as an adult, some of the introversion and/or shyness tends to manifest as me basically psyching myself out ahead of time - the little voice in my head saying, "Ugh, if I go to this thing it's gonna be all this woooooooooorrrrrrrrkkkkkk being sociable . . . . . . maybe I don't really want to go . . . . . ." And of course being an adult I can recognize what's happening, and so I kinda force myself to actually get off my ass and go to the thing and of course I have a good time within my own introverted definition of a good time.

But kids tend not to have that self-awareness, so it sometimes helped when my parents would encourage me to do some things that I might have been on the fence about. But I mean important things, like best friends' birthday party, where the person I've known for half my life will be hurt if I don't show up and I know everybody there anyway. Or if I was just wandering around being bored ('cause even introvert kids can sometimes get bit by the Boredom Bug), they'd nudge me to call up a friend and see if they were bored too and maybe we could be bored together. Randomly nagging or interrupting to get me to go be social just because was just aggravating. So picking the right situation to gently nudge your kid to do something social can be helpful.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:19 PM on November 2, 2017 [6 favorites]

Kids (people) who tend towards being quiet, self-entertaining, and self-sufficient often struggle with a) Being OK asking for help/expressing distress and b) Being noticed when they are asking for help/expressing distress but it's not obvious to others because they're not throwing a tantrum. If you can be mindful of that, and not just assume that the quiet, smart, self-sufficient kid is always alright, you'll probably save them years of therapy.
posted by rhiannonstone at 7:49 PM on November 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

Introverts also just can't stand being with people they don't like. I'm an extremely gregarious introvert with a wide circle of friends because I finally moved to a city where I clicked with people, but I hated school growing up and didn't click with anyone. My mother is even more of an introvert than I was, and was happy to leave me to my own devices. My experience is very close to rhiannonstone 'a suggestion, and my mother made that mistake, but I can also understand why my mom did that, since she wanted to respect my autonomy and thought I was fine if I didn't say anything.
posted by yueliang at 10:55 PM on November 2, 2017

I'm a mildish introvert with a very specific memory from my childhood that might be of interest. For a few years when I was a kid, between about age 5 and age 8, my best friend lived next door. We saw each other all the time, got on like a house on fire and would probably spend a good chunk of time playing together two or three times a week. I remember one day her mum asking if I would like to come over and play, expecting the usual yes, but I was suddenly exhausted at the idea and all I wanted was to go to my own bedroom and spend time playing quietly on my own, pursuing my own little projects, not having to talk or explain or negotiate how to spend the time. So I said no. I think I might have added something childishly honest about preferring to play by myself that afternoon.

Her mum was aghast, as was mine - I was made to feel like I'd just committed the worst faux pas and insulted my friend. My mum tried to persuade me into it and tried to broker some sort of compromise where we would play together for a while, but I got more grumpy and withdrawn because all I wanted was alone time, and eventually I got my way. I recall it causing a bit of bad feeling between our families for a few days, though things did get back to normal after that. But what I wished more than anything in that moment was that my mum would recognise what I needed, realise that I wasn't trying to be hurtful to my friend or her mum, and use her adult-level social skills to make it okay for me to need that.
posted by FavourableChicken at 5:13 AM on November 3, 2017

If something is clearly emotionally wrong with the kid, please don't hound them to explain what's wrong. Feeling overwhelmed as a kid and having an adult demand I come up with words to explain myself was a weird sort of hell I still occasionally have nightmares about.
posted by agregoli at 10:06 AM on November 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am a bookish introvert, raised by an introvert and an extrovert. My parents were really permissive about letting me read at the dinner table, bring a book to parties, etc. It was pretty rude in retrospect (especially the parties thing), but much preferable to playing Monopoly with my parents' friends' kids for the umpteenth time. I wholeheartedly agree with the assessments of summer camp being a special kind of hell.

I will say I think being introverted made me seem unconfident at work, at least early on. My job, which I really like, involves being "on" all the time, and it still feels a little like a persona to me. You don't say how old your kid is, so this might not directly apply, but the division of people into "extrovert = leader" and "introvert = follower" happens earlier than you might think. (And as your sarcastic gasp implies, Western culture generally favors the extrovert.) As a student, I had been told that "quiet is the kiss of death," and I do not do well in meetings or larger groups, where I tend to observe and listen rather than speak up. Make sure your child understands that introverts can be leaders too; maybe give them books with examples of people who made a difference not by shouting the loudest or shaking the most hands but by working hard toward their goal, or working in the service of others. Realizing this, and seeking out other introverted leader role models, has really helped my own career.
posted by basalganglia at 8:10 PM on November 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I hated it when my mother would pounce on me as soon as she came home when all I wanted was to decompress from the school day.
posted by brujita at 8:34 PM on November 5, 2017

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