“Introverted children may not be as demonstrative as extroverted children. They love and value you, but they may not talk about it as much. Accept your temperament and your child’s. They can’t be changed. Both of you have wonderful qualities to contribute to your family and to the world.”
“[A] difference between the introvert and the extrovert is how they experience external stimulation. Extroverts like to experience a lot, and introverts like to know a lot about what they experience.”
The above are excerpts from Dr. Marti Olsen Laney’s book The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extrovert World. Dr. Laney spends much of the beginning of her book explaining exactly what introversion is so that those who are introverts (or those who live with introverts) can better understand their temperaments. She begins by explaining that American culture values the qualities exhibited by extroverts. She explains, “America was built on rugged individualism and the importance of citizens speaking their minds. We value action, speed, competition, and drive.” Dr. Laney argues that it is time to celebrate the positive qualities that introverts bring to the table.
Introverts vs. Extroverts According to Laney
The strongest distinguishing characteristic of introverts is their energy source: Introverts draw energy from their internal world of ideas, emotions, and impressions. They are energy conservers. They can be easily overstimulated by the external world, experiencing the uncomfortable feeling of “too much” … However, introverts need to balance their alone time with the outside time, or they can lose other perspectives and connections. Introverted people who balance their energy have perseverance and the ability to think independently, focus deeply, and work creatively.
[Extroverts] are energized by the external world – by activities, people, places, and things. They are energy spenders. Long periods of hanging out, internal contemplation, or being alone or with just one other person understimulate them. However, extroverts need to balance their time with intervals of just being, or they can lose themselves in a whirlwind of anxious activities. Extroverts offer much to our society – they express themselves easily, they concentrate on results, and they enjoy crowds and action.
This is not the first time that I have written about introversion and extroversion. In fact, I was fascinated by Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking when it was published a few years ago. In her book, Cain has a slightly different take on the definitions of introversion and extroversion.
Introverts vs. Extroverts According to Cain
Cain describes the introverts and extroverts as the north and south of temperaments. Introverts are people who prefer to be alone, enjoying the lack of stimulation and noise. On the other hand, extroverts thrive off of other people’s conversation and energy. While introversion and shyness often overlap, people who are shy experience anxiety when faced with social situations. In contrast, “Introverted people aren’t bothered by social situations,” says Louis Schmidt, director of the Child Emotion Laboratory at McMaster University in Ontario. “They just prefer not to engage.”
By some counts, roughly thirty percent of people fall into the introverted temperament end of the spectrum. And, while we might think that introversion and extroversion are choices we make, a study at Harvard University illustrated that even four-month-old babies exhibit tendencies towards introversion and extroversion that correlate with their personalities when they get older.
Benefits of Introversion
While American culture values extroverts, there are some key benefits that introverts possess. Firstly, because introverts spend less time talking, they are wonderful listeners. Listening is an essential element in nonverbal communication, perhaps one of the most important skills when going on a shidduch, making friends, or interviewing for a job. Recent studies show that introverted CEOs of major companies are most successful because they are able to listen to the creative ideas of their employees, instead of asserting their own ideas on a consistent basis.
Another benefit of introversion is good decision making. By nature, introverts are less likely to take excessive risks and therefore are more likely to weigh their decisions carefully before acting. Cain explains that “Extroverts are much more likely to get really excited by the possibility of a reward, but because of that, they won’t always pay attention to warning signals. Introverts are much more circumspect.”
Yet another benefit of introversion is the skill mastery, which has to do with the introvert’s ability to spend significant patches of time alone. Studies done on chess masters, concert violinists, athletes, and even regular university students preparing for examines demonstrated that the more deliberate time spent practicing or studying alone, the more skilled the person became. A Florida State University psychologist reasoned, “You gain the most on your performance when you work alone. And the introverted temperament might make some kids more willing to make that commitment.”
Parents of Introverts
Traditionally, extroversion is valued over introversion in our communities. We tell our children, “Don’t be shy.” We grade our students on class participation and sometimes take off point for not participating enough. We call silences in conversation “awkward pauses.” Perhaps, though, we need to figure out how to strike a balance with our children, teaching them the value of following their natural dispositions while occasionally pushing past their discomfort every now and then.
Some tips include:
- Check in with teachers. Introverts are often overlooked in the classroom. But, if you sporadically check in with your child’s teacher, the teacher will know to look out for your child, even if he is quiet. This will ensure that his progress will be monitored.
- Encourage moderate risks. What feels like an easy task for you might be a daring adventure for your child. Therefore, discuss with your child what feels comfortable for them and what slightly pushes their limits. For instance, if your child refuses all play dates, suggest having a short play date with only one other child in the comfort of your home. Then, create a signal for your child to let you know when they feel the play date is over. Taking moderate risks will help your child become more at ease when he is forced into difficult situations.
- Respect boundaries. Don’t push far beyond what is comfortable for your child. Listen to him if he says that he cannot do what you are asking of him in social situations.
Perhaps the main idea parents can take away from this article is that being introverted is not inherently bad. In fact, there are some wonderful things about being introverted. However, because introverted children often float under the radar or are misunderstood, just make sure someone is keeping track of them!