Having a child who is not the first in queue to do new things, meet new people or sit and chat, can feel that there is something wrong. However, for some children, being introverted or sensitive can mean that, rather than think that there is something wrong with them, we need to identify how we can adapt our routines and behaviours to help them thrive.
Introverts, are by nature, quieter, more reserved and happier to spend alone, whilst extroverts enjoy socialising, being active and larger groups. Whilst this is only the tip of the iceberg, we can often see in children we know, those who are happier in their own, peaceful worlds, and those who quickly become bored in their own company. The concern is often, whether the introverted behaviours are introverted or something to be concerned about.
Signs of introverted child:
- Deep thinkers and processors
- Insular, reserved and thoughtful
- Good listeners
- People watchers
- Can be reluctant to talk
- Small circle of friends
- Can be old souls
- Easily overstimulated
- Easily exhausted – or comment that they feel sad
- Need time to process
- Can sit silently in group conversations or walk away
- They can like doing the same things
- Can become upset when pushed to do new things/see new people
- Dislike large group gatherings
- Like spending time alone
- Prefers to text or email to call
- Will cancel phone calls or delay them
- Not keen on socialising frequently
- Unlike to join large groups, clubs or activities
- Need time out after events to recharge
- May be anxious / shy / introvert
- They can get lost in an activity for hours
- Noise/overwhelming environments can cause them anxiety/distress
Signs of a sensitive child:
- Sensitive to textures, sounds and feelings
- Can be jumpy or fearful
- Dislikes new places
- Does not like surprises or spontaneity
- Deep thinkers
- Easily overstimulated
- Experiences intense emotions
- Reflective and considerate
- Notices the smallest changes
- Can be overly emotional
- Easily overwhelmed
- Needs time to decompress
- Can be picky about clothes, foods, sounds, temperatures
- Can be referred to as an old soul
Things you need to know about your introverted/sensitive child:
- They enjoy being alone and having peace to think
- They like to micromanage their environment so that it is supportive of their needs to decompress
- They can feel really lonely in a crowd
- They have to summon the energy to socialise or do things outside of their comfort zone and this can lead to a need to hide after
- They have to plaster a smile on to socialise in larger groups
- They do not want to be the centre of attention
- Their inner dialogue is constant
- They would rather write than talk
- Talking is not fun – unless it’s a deep and meaningful conversation
- They are not pleased when people arrive unannounced
- They don’t like spontaneous plans
- They are exhausted after socialising
- When something is planned, they don’t want you to change it
Things you may be seeing:
- Hiding in bedrooms
- Becoming more withdrawn
- Staying awake when everyone else is asleep
- Sleeping when everyone is busy
- Avoiding calling friends
- Getting lost in hobbies or interests
- Meltdowns about things that they earlier said were ok
- Getting irritable about things (Often noise, loud activities, too much to do)
First steps to support them:
1 – Have quiet times in your day – introverts really struggle in constant hustle and bustle, unlike their extrovert counterparts, constant busy or loud behaviours can be overwhelming to them and they can then struggle to process other parts of their day or shutdown. Introverts can become physically, mentally and emotionally drained from constant activity, talking and socialising and this can lead to them becoming anxious, irritable, angry, tired, sad or unwell. Taking account of this, and structuring in quiet downtime for the whole household allows them to recharge their batteries and restore calm.
2 – Become comfortable with silence – introverts can find it impossible to talk to you 24/7. Whilst they may joyfully take part in deep and meaningful conversations, they rarely want to discuss the weather, make simple chit chat or to discuss the colour of the shoes you want to buy. If you have an introverted child, it can be really helpful to start becoming comfortable with companionable silence and allow them space to ponder, think, process or enjoy what they are doing without fear that they will have to contribute to chit chat but to also offer them opportunities to talk when they can. There isn’t anything wrong, they are just unlikely to find the energy to take part in it. Learning to be silent with them, and often getting past our own issues with silence, means that they are more likely to join you for activities as they can relax.
3 – Don’t spring surprises on them – introverts rarely like spontaneity, and if they say they do, they may be trying not to upset you. Trying not to spring surprises on them, give them due notice of bigger events and where possible at least an hour or twos notice of events and situations that are arising can really help them. If you can’t you may need to accept that they may shut down, struggle or become anxious. Introverts like to ponder, process and formulate a plan, so spontaneity – including organising for their friends to spring up on their doorsteps can do them more harm than good as they can quickly become overwhelmed.
4 – Support them to practice self-care – whether it’s a hot bath, reading, meditation, painting their nails or sitting brushing their hair for them in silence, helping your child or teen develop a strong sense of self-care is paramount to supporting their mental health. They won’t necessarily want to do what the rest of the family wants to do, and allowing them the freedom to say ‘no’ and be supported is important to help them to recognise their needs and meet them. However, do support them to find things that they do like to do, even if they are quiet and not necessarily your choosing.
5 – Plan activities that tie into their hobbies and interests to coax them out of their comfort zones – The interesting thing about introverts is they often have hobbies and interests that are deeper and more intriguing. They are deep thinkers who like to mull over things and ponder them so sometimes, their interests can be a little different. Find some cool books, look for documentaries or DVDs they may love or provide resources that encourage them to expand their ideas. After lockdown, if you want to get them out the house, plan activities and trips that entice their interests. For instance, if they love art take them to the gallery where they can wander and look without noise, let them explore museums, architecture or exhibitions with free reign, let them tell you about it, ask open questions and show interest to build connections with them around things that they love. You can then use these as opportunities to encourage them to think of other places you may go to
6 – If we have a busy day – plan a quiet one the next day – An introverted child may not be able to keep up with a weekend or week of chaos, spontaneity and plans. If you have a busy planned day, reassure them that the next 1-2 days will be quiet and peaceful, and allow them to decompress from it. If they know your week is chaos then they are less likely to be involved. However, if they can see (e.g. on a calendar) that the one crazy day is followed by two downtime days where they can rest, relax, decompress and get lost in their favourite activities then they can mentally prepare for this.
7 – Promote their positives & avoid criticism for personality traits – Introverts can often spend much of their time being told all the things that they ‘should’ be doing and feel as though they do not meet their parent’s/carers or friend’s expectations. Understandably this can have a huge impact on self-esteem and confidence as they never feel that they measure up – and they wouldn’t point this out to you. By highlighting their strengths, skills and the things that you find admirable about them, you can build their confidence and self-esteem and allow them to be feel completely respected and accepted for exactly who they are. Which, in turn is more likely to encourage them to ask you for help or support to try new things or develop their experiences.
8 – Build transitions slowly – as transitions and changes occur, the more time that an introverted child has to adjust the better. Doing as much prep work beforehand as possible is vital. Such as, developing similar time routines, structuring busy and downtime, planning meals, writing shopping lists etc. The more you can pre-plan and manage the more that they can adjust. Additionally, the more preplanning that occurs, the less stress that will occur, as the concept of lots of people alone, is already overwhelming without needing to develop large quantities of changes.
9 – Involve them in decisions – being introverted or sensitive means that your child is more likely to go with your choices and melt down or struggle later. Developing a habit of involving them in decisions and choices means that you validate their ideas, listen intently to their thoughts and empower them to be more open in their feelings. However, you do need to be patient, and recognise that they may need more thinking time as they do not like to make the wrong decisions. Being ok with this, and that their choices, may not be the ones that you want, means that your child will feel more confident and accepted and therefore accept themselves.
Overall, accepting that your child may not find the things that others do ‘fun’ but supporting them to find their own sense of fun, peace and happiness will allow them to manage their mental health and feel comfortable in their own skin.
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