As my husband and I sat on the beach soaking up the sun on one of our many family beach days, our son, Nathan, ten years old at the time, stood in line 25 yards away at the beachside hotdog stand. We had sent him over, well within our view, to purchase an ice cream cone as a treat on this particularly hot day. We watched from our beach chairs as our son stood patiently waiting, bare feet planted in the white sand, while person after person got into the line in front of him. After watching this for a while, my husband got up and gestured to him to move up in the line…he shuffled up a few inches, as more patrons pushed their way in front of him. I eventually rose from my chair and joined in the gesturing and prodding from afar…to no avail. Finally, after my husband walked over and joined our son in the line, placing his hand on his back to gently move him forward, he made it to the window and ordered his treat. We were a little ashamed of ourselves for trying so hard to encourage aggressiveness in him. After all, the Bible says, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first”, not to mention the fact that as Christians we are to have a servant attitude and put others’ needs before our own. However, we hated to see our son taken advantage of by pushy beachgoers.
This scene played out many times over the years, in one form or another, during our son’s young life; whether we were watching him as he sat on the bench passively during a basketball or football game, while other players went to the coach and asked to be put in the game, or watching as other kids went out for leadership positions and opportunities at school that we knew he would be great at had he the courage to try.
You see, our son, the middle child, is an introvert. He is neither the aggressive nor the pushy type. Our son is in college now and he and I talked recently about this personality trait, which we happen to have in common. The fact that we are introverts means that we are fueled more by alone time than by being with crowds of people. We need that time to recharge. Also, we prefer going to lunch with one friend or a small group of them where we can talk one-on-one rather than going to a large party with lots of new faces. And, we are not comfortable being the center of attention in most cases but would rather sit on the periphery and watch the action.
But, what does a parent do when raising an introverted child? We certainly want to teach our children the godly trait of putting others first, but we also want them to reach their full potential and have a happy life with many good friends.
I believe there are three important things parents can do to help their introverted child:
- Help your child establish and foster quality friendships.
Introverted children will not go out of their way to meet friends. They will not be likely to invite other kids over to their house to play or hang out. Therefore, as their parents, we can help them out a little bit. For example: Get together with other families who have children the same age as yours. Arrange for fun activities and outings with your child’s classmates. Help them to walk through the steps of joining a club or trying out for a play. These things do not come naturally to them but that doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from them greatly.
- Allow them to have their “space” at home.
Introverted children will like their alone time more than others. Don’t force them to always interact with the family. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should allow them to stay in their room for hours on end. But just be respectful of the fact that they recharge and reboot during time alone.
- Create opportunities for them to be alone with one parent or the other without other siblings around.
It is in these private and personal times that they will feel like sharing their thoughts, ideas, dreams and struggles. Introverted children are not likely to take the initiative to come to you to talk, especially when all the family is always around. It can be really tricky when another sibling in the home is an extreme extrovert, as is the case in our family. Your introvert may never be able to get a word in edgewise!
Our son has blossomed into an amazing and talented young man. He is very smart and has a great personality for getting along with all kinds of people. He is goal oriented and driven in his career track, and believe it or not, is a really entertaining and accomplished speaker in group situations.
We learn a lot of things as parents by looking back in the past and analyzing our mistakes and successes, often refining our parenting technique with subsequent children, ( to the dismay of our third child and only daughter who is sure we are tougher on her than we were on either of her brothers!). Although we’ve stumbled and messed up many times in raising our three children, God has blessed our family beyond measure, knowing that our heart’s goal is to raise children who will love and honor Him. He will bless you, as well, as you seek him for direction and guidance in raising godly, Christ-honoring children.