Is your child an introvert? Find out if they are - and what to do.

Your child is shy. Maybe they are more than shy. And despite all your patience, and love of course, you want them to be more … more? Well, less shy anyway. You don’t want to label them as introverts. It seems extreme to call a seven-year-old an introvert. But introverts no longer have the anti-social rap they used to. Introverts change the world. Introverts are strong and lead rich lives. Just ask Susan Cain author of The Quiet Power of Introverts.

“The world’s introverts include everyone from Gandhi to Rosa Parkes, Emma Thompson and Bill Gates,” the self confessed introvert says in her podcast, Introverts, Power and the Quiet Revolution.

“And all these people made their contributions to the world because of, not in spite of, their quiet temperaments,” Cain says. “Introverts can be deep thinkers; loyal and passionate friends and sometimes quiet kids can feel overwhelmed by classrooms and sports leagues and parties.”

Emma Thompson Bill Gates getty
Bill Gates and Emma Thompson are both introverts. Images via Getty.

According to Cain the difference between introverts and extroverts is how they get their energy.


“It’s not about shyness, which is the fear of social judgement. Some introverts are shy, some are not and shyness is a big piece of our puzzle. But introversion is about feeling more alive and in a state of equilibrium when you are in a quieter, lower key environment, while extroverts recharge their batteries by being out and about with a lot of people.”

If you want to test whether your child – or yourself – is an introvert or extrovert Cain suggests to ask these three questions.

  1. When at a party, one that you are really enjoying do you have about two hours in you before you want to go home and get in your pyjamas? An extrovert will be energised by the party and want to stay, an introvert will be depleted of energy.
  2. Do you think before you speak (introvert)? Or do you process your thoughts as you speak (extrovert)?
  3. Do you prefer one on one conversations (introverts), or larger group settings (extroverts)?

Cain cautions that recognising and taking into account the temperament of your child is not about shielding them from situations that make them uncomfortable. A parents’ job, she says, is to help them overcome their fears in thoughtful and productive ways.

Watch Cain talk about the power of introverts as part of her TED talk on the subject. Post continues below.

Video via TED

She suggests getting your child to rate their anxiety from 1-10. If your child is in the 4-6 range that is where they will be able to stretch themselves. If they have moved into the 7-10 range, pushing them is probably counter-productive.

Now that you have a firmer idea what camp you and your child belong to, Cain says it’s important to remember that introverted children often require a “long runway” to take off. They need extra time and attention before they take flight.

“Sometimes they take time to gather speed, but once they do take flight there is almost no limit to how far they can go.  It is the job of the adult in these children’s lives to not shove them into the air before they are ready.”

This week on Mamamia Out Loud, Mia Freedman, Monique Bowley and Kate de Brito discussed Susan Cain’s book and podcast. Post continues below

Tips from Cain to help a child navigate the ‘long runway’.

  1. Wherever you are going get there early. If it is a birthday party it is so much easier for your child to arrive before the other kids get there so they can feel as though they own the space.
  2. Try not to get frustrated when you feel your child is not pulling their weight in social situations. Manners are important but you need to know they will say hello eventually. When they get stuck tell them about the time you felt the same way and how you overcame it and you know they will too. And if you can, practice it.
  3. Break big challenges into small steps and declare victory at the end of each small step.

We’re all different. Some of us may land in the middle of the introvert/extrovert scale, some of us may sit on the extremes. But isn’t that what makes the world wonderful? It would be very boring if we were all the same.

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