One of my favorite parenting books in not a parenting book at all. This book, incidentally, is the book I re-buy a couple of times every year, because it never stays on my bookshelf – the copies just seem to simply walk out of my office!
Before I tell you the title of this oft-requested book, I have to tell you about my 15 year-old daughter, Abigail. When she was three years old, she would never, and I mean NEVER take anything out of the hands of our mommy-and-me class teacher, relying instead on me to hand things to her. When she was four, she barely made eye contact with strangers, and by the time she started Kindergarten, she was the world’s quietest child – at first. Once comfortable in her environment and with the people around her, there was no stopping her! Over the years, people labeled her “shy”, “socially awkward”, “rude”, and many other unflattering things.
She was, though, none of the above. Do you know what she was (and still is, and always will be)? INTROVERTED! And that’s a beautiful thing! The book The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extroverted World, by Marti Olsen Laney [Available HERE on Amazon], finally helped me understand my daughter at a deep level. Incidentally, it also helped me understand the person who passed on his introverted genes to her – my husband (but that’s a different blog post).
Introversion/extraversion is one of the main personality dimensions, and it is present on all major personality inventories. Laney describes introverts as those who recharge their mental and emotional batteries from within, from solitary activities, art, quiet contemplation, nature and just plain old staring at walls. Introverts like to socialize with either one person at a time or in small groups, and they are often more cerebral, self- reflective and quieter. Extroverts, in contrast, get energized by being with others, at parties, loud events, classes, and while out and about in their communities.
So, how does all of this good personality theory stuff help me become a better mom to my introverted child (and possibly a better wife to my introverted husband.) I had a realization that she was a different kind of person – I know, big epiphany! – but it really helped me understand that I cannot measure her happiness and well-being by my rules. So, because I am thrilled to meet a friend after work for a drink, I assumed that she would want a play date after school, and I was so disappointed when instead of a happy chatty girl, I had a meltdown on my hands. Since I love meeting new people, I assumed that she would love to float around at family and friend gatherings, and instead – you guessed it – I had a meltdown on my hands. However, when I backed off and asked and listened to what she needed to thrive – and then gave it her, I got my delightful, chatty, active and inquisitive child back.
I think the hardest thing that a parent or a therapist has to do is teach our children and clients ways to express in words what bothers them. Once I introduced words such as “overwhelmed”, “drained”, and grammatically incorrect, but so useful “too people-y”, my daughter and my more introverted clients began to thrive! If your child identifies as moderately to strongly introverted, please consider cutting out half of her/his afterschool activities, make your child’s room inviting and comfortable for quiet games and introspection, and plan on leaving social activities early or skip them all together. Yes, this is a hard and unpopular thing to do, especially in this extroverted American culture, but isn’t your child’s mental and emotional well-being worth it?