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The Problem-Solving Parent: Extravert or Introvert - Which is Your Child?
By Eleanor Reynolds, M.A

Sam and his mother meet Jody and her mother at the playground. While the mothers sit and chat, the kids play in the sand. Sam finds a place at the far end of the sand area and plays quietly by himself with his bucket and shovel. Jody runs to the middle of the sand area and goes from child to child, jabbering to each one. It doesn’t matter if they don’t answer; she’s content just to be in the company of other kids. When Jody finally sits down next to Sam, he gets up and moves away to be alone. Sam’s mother is embarrassed and worries that he won’t learn how to socialize. Jody’s mother is glad that Jody is sociable but worries that she might be too pushy.

Each of these children is acting out his inborn temperament. Most of us fall into the category of either introvert or extravert. We may have some overlapping characteristics, but generally we draw our energy from either withdrawing from the world for a time or from being in the middle of a crowd of people. Both preferences are normal and each type of person has the potential for making friends and maintaining loving relationships. However, introverts need special understanding and may have a tougher time with relationships. Most children are extraverts: they are outgoing, friendly, and expressive, and they draw their energy from being with people. They are not afraid to talk to almost anyone and are usually ready to play with whoever comes along. Day care centers, schools, and most of our social institutions are made for extraverts. Introverts, on the other hand, are in the minority. They are introspective, slow to make transitions, and think about what they’re going to say or do next. Introverts make fewer but deeper relationships. They draw energy from time spent alone. By the end of a play date or day at preschool, the introvert may be drained of energy and falling apart. She will need some respite in a quiet area before returning to play or talking to family members. Understanding this characteristic of your child may be one of the most important pieces of information you can have. The main advantage is being able to accept your child as she is. Every child is unique and we can easily damage their feeling of self worth when we expect the impossible from a child. There can also be a problem when parents and their children don’t match up. The problem usually relates to the introverted parent or child.

Extraverts are accepted by society because they are the norm. It’s easy to be with people who are outgoing, friendly and talkative. But it takes effort to be with someone who must get away from us in order to recharge her batteries; someone who stands in a doorway watching for twenty minutes before entering a room full of people; and someone who can’t tell us what’s on his mind until he’s mulled it over for days. In Raising Your Spirited Child, May Sheedy Kurcinka provides numerous tests to help you understand your child’s temperament. Discovering your child’s energy source is only one facet, but it can be an important one. Here’s a brief version of one test.

How to Tell and What to Do

If your child is an extravert, she probably:

 _ _ Is quite gregarious and outgoing

_ _ enjoys being around people

_ _ tells you about her experiences immediately

_ _ talks about what she’s thinking

 _ _ initiates conversations with other people

_ _ hates being sent to her room alone

_ _ can’t imagine why you’d want to be alone

 _ _ tells you what she’s thinking and feeling

 _ _ needs lot of approval


If you child is an introvert he probably:

 _ _ watches before joining an activity

 _ _ enjoys doing things by himself or with a few people

_ _ is grouchy when around people too long

_ _ find being with strangers draining

_ _ waits days or weeks to discuss events

_ _ needs a great deal of personal space

 _ _ likes being sent to his room alone

_ _ finds it difficult to share feelings

_ _ finds guests in your home "invasive"

_ _ talks to family members but not strangers


Here are some ways to help your child find her best energy source. Introverts need: Time alone; help your child pace herself so she can withdraw when overwhelmed. Physical space; teach him how to say, "Move over, please," so he can keep a comfortable distance. Time for reflecting; let him tell you about events and thoughts when he is ready. Uninterrupted work time; introverts hate interruptions and find it hard to stop what they’re doing. Provide long transitions.

Extraverts need: Time with people; friends, family and a good children’s program can fill this need. Feedback; give lots of hugs, verbal encouragement and reinforce her good behavior. People to help them think; listen and respond when she shares her ideas.

Eleanor Reynolds is the editor of The Best of the Problem-Solver: Articles for Parents and Teachers and the author of Guiding Young Children: A Problem-Solving Approach. She can be reached by email at problem@blarg.com.