Don’t say this to my introverted child

“Don’t be so shy.”

Please don’t say that to my child. Or anything similar to that. Please don’t make any comment to her about being shy or being too quiet.

“Cat got your tongue?”

Don’t. Please.

First, she’s not just being shy, she’s an introvert. There’s a difference.

Secondly, even though “don’t be shy” and similar comments are made with good intentions, they convey the wrong message. What my child hears is, “You’re not behaving as you should and you need to change.”

No, she doesn’t need to change. Introversion is not a problem that needs to be corrected nor a flaw that needs to be fixed.

Our culture doesn’t get that. Society values extroversion as a virtue but tends to look at introversion as a handicap. Our educational system is geared toward extroverts and the business world rewards them. We gush over attention-seeking celebrities and their ridiculous “look at me” antics.

And quiet kids are overlooked and misunderstood.

Even the word introvert has negative connotations. Look it up and you find definitions like shy, self-centered, unable to make friends, does not enjoy being with other people. That’s not true.

Introverts aren’t necessarily shy. Shyness is a different thing altogether. You can be a non-shy introvert or even a shy extrovert. Shyness is rooted in fear; introversion is a temperament; a natural preference for less stimulating environments. Shyness can be overcome; introversion isn’t something to be overcome. You don’t say of the introverted child, “she’ll grow out of it.” That’s like saying “she’ll grow out of her left-handedness.”

Introverted kids don’t need to be fixed, they need to be understood. Let’s celebrate the awesomeness of the quiet kids.

Think about some of the really cool people who were/are introverts: Albert Einstein, J.K. Rowling, Dr. Seuss, Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks.

Consider some of the common attributes of introverted kids.

  • They have strong internal values and want to do the right thing. According to Susan Cain (author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking), introverted kids “pay close attention to social cues and moral principles. By age 6, they cheat and break rules less than other kids do—even when they believe they won’t be caught. (http://www.webcitation.org/65zcS75tT)
  • They’re sensitive to other’s feelings. At age 7, introverted kids are more likely than their peers to be described by parents and caregivers as empathetic or conscientious, according to Cain.
  • They’re good, loyal friends.
  • They excel at solving problems.
  • They live life at a slower pace and focus on the simple joys of life.
  • They don’t have to be the center of attention.

My introverted preschooler is one very cool kid. Some people find it hard to believe she talks non-stop at home, but she does. Because she tends to be reserved and quiet in public, people don’t get to see how smart and funny she is. They don’t get to see how wonderfully imaginative she is. They don’t get to see her compassionate heart. I wish everyone could see how totally amazing she is, but they don’t because she doesn’t want the spotlight. And that’s OK.

It’s OK to be a quiet kid. Instead of trying to fix what’s not broken, let’s recognize and celebrate their awesomeness.

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