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On Parenting
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 02/01/2012

Parenting an introvert in an extrovert’s world

A new book is getting attention for speaking out on behalf of those who don’t speak out much at all.
(Crown Publishing Group)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” by Susan Cain (Crown), makes the case that we, as a culture, do not recognize the value of those with introspective personalities.

Cain reports that nearly half of Americans are introverts, but many of them do not feel comfortable until adulthood because we so often expect children to be extroverts. “We often marvel at how introverted, geeky kids ‘blossom’ into secure and happy adults. We liken it to a metamorphosis,” she writes.

“However, maybe it’s not the children who change but their environments. As adults, they get to select the careers, spouses, and social circles that suit them.”

She goes on to explain how schools tend to be designed for more-outgoing children and discusses how sometimes even the parents of introverts mistakenly try to “fix” them.

In the book, Cain recounts the story of parents who sought medical attention for their son because he didn’t have many friends, did not enjoy sports and was not competitive. The parents thought he might be depressed.

The doctor met with the boy and found him to enjoy imaginative play and to be intellectually astute. He told the parents that their son was a normal introvert.

The parents, both extroverts, did not agree. They took their son to others doctors until one agreed to “treat” him.

That is the kind of attitude that Cain told me she is hoping to change with “Quiet.” I asked her, a former Wall Street lawyer and self-described introvert, what she hoped the take-away would be for parents of an introvert. Here’s her answer, written via e-mail:

“Don’t just tolerate your introverted child — take delight in him or her,” she said.

“These children often have unique powers of empathy, creativity and perceptivity. Work with your child to overcome her inhibitions, but from a place of total acceptance of who s/he is, and [an understanding] that she has a ‘longer runway’ to her comfort zone than other kids do.

“And, if your child is a sensitive introvert, know that the way you parent will make a real difference in his or her life. Recent groundbreaking research suggests that these children are more susceptible to experience than other kids — both positive and negative. Give [them] a nurturing, stable home, and they bloom even more than the average child; but in punitive or traumatic circumstances, they’re more likely than other kids to wilt.

“This means you have an awesome responsibility, but also that you’ll reap the rewards of your great parenting.”

Are you an extrovert raising an introvert? How do you navigate the difference in personalities among children? Do you agree that we all need to be more sensitive to introverts?

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By  |  07:00 AM ET, 02/01/2012

Tags:  Books, Childhood Development

 
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