Parenting Your Little Introvert or Extrovert
When you’re trying to figure out what makes your child tick, it’s tempting to label him as a blanket-loving Linus or a bouncy, full-of-fun-fun-fun Tigger. And as soon as you typecast him, the concerns start. (Is it OK for Introvert Bert to spend so much time holed up in his room? Will Extrovert Ernie ever learn the beauty of blessed silence?)
To put your mind at ease: First of all, “introvert” and “extrovert” aren’t definitive diagnoses, like blood types, says Jerome Kagan, a professor emeritus of psychology at Harvard University, who has extensively researched temperament. Most kids (and adults) contain a little of both, and they reveal different aspects of themselves in different situations—which is why the child who hangs on to your skirt at a birthday party might do naked cartwheels at a family reunion. And “not all 4-year-olds who appear introverted or extroverted will be that way 20 years later,” says Kagan.
Also, the terms are often misunderstood, says Laurie Helgoe, Ph.D., a psychologist and a clinical assistant professor at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, in Charleston, and the author of Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength ($16, amazon.com). They don’t indicate whether a person is antisocial or a motormouth but whether she finds the company of others draining or energizing. “An introvert refuels by spending time alone,” says Helgoe. “An extrovert draws energy from interaction.”
Whichever type you have, here’s how to help him survive and thrive. (So you can worry a little less.)