I have a 4-year old child who seems quite introverted. She’s having a really hard time on playdates. How can I help her?
Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): It’s important to understand the difference between introverted personalities and extroverted personalities. Most of the world is made up of extroverted personalities and they have a less difficult time dealing with other people because they get their psychological energy from being with other people.
For really introverted people, they can spend time with other people, but at some point early on they are going to need to go off by themselves. They get re-energized by their own solitude, their need to be by themselves. Whether it’s reading or painting or tossing the ball around, it doesn’t matter, they need some time by themselves. That’s important to know when you raise an introverted child. You really never can make an introverted child into an extroverted child. It’s just part of their make up; they are hardwired this way, so to speak. It’s who they are and it needs to be respected. But, you want to help them with some socialization skills, that you can do.
Arranging playdates for your child with other children is a good thing to do, but you have to be sure it doesn’t go on for too long a period of time. Keep an eye on her to see when she has had enough socialization and needs some time to herself. That can change depending on her age. For instance, she might be able to do longer playdates with other kids as she gets older.
MOLLY: I know! That was my mistake with my introverted-leaning daughter when she was 2 and 3. We would often stay at a playdate too long. At that time, an hour was too long for her and when we would get in the car to leave she would have a complete melt-down.
MOM: Right, but as she got older she was able to tolerate the playdate for longer periods of time without getting that solitude fix. She is someone who really needs time to spend time by herself to recharge.
That’s one of the things you can talk about with a child, especially at 3 or 4 years and older, and let her know that you recognize that she needs some time by herself to feel better. And you know that If a kid feels like the parent understands something essential about her like that, it’s very reassuring.
MOLLY: It’s probably really helpful for the child to understand it too, because they might not know it themselves.
MOM: That’s right, they don’t know it themselves. They have this need, and when the need doesn’t get met, they melt down. If you can help the child become more self-aware in that way, and you’re letting her know that you understand this about her, and that you will help her with that, she doesn’t become so desperate.
MOLLY: I guess as a parent of an introverted child you have to be careful that you don’t push the child to the point where they can’t manage it. Which for me was really hard. We would be at a birthday party and everyone is hanging out, and all the other kids are having fun and you think, why can’t my kid manage it? It’s hard to understand, especially if you’re not introverted yourself.
MOM: Right, I think if you are introverted yourself, you intuitively know that this could be an issue. But I think if you’re extroverted and have an introverted child (and there are lots fewer introverts around than extroverts), then you are going to have a few bad episodes before you figure out what you need to do to work with her needs.
MOLLY: It can be too much socialization?
MOM: Right, but at the same time, you want to teach them how to socialize. You just do it in shorter bursts of time and build up to longer stretches of time with peers.
MOM: Dr. Susan Rutherford is a Clinical Psychologist who has been in practice for over 30 years. She has degrees from Duke University, New York University (NYU), and the University of Denver.
MOLLY: Molly is Dr. Rutherford’s younger daughter and the mother of two children under six.
This blog is about raising kids and how our parenting decisions now can have long term effects.