Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Raising an Introvert Child

Jena is an introvert. It's obvious.

And she got it from me.

She is slow to adjust to new social situations, needs to observe a situation before participating, should be warned before being surprised, she embarrasses easily in public, and is overwhelmed easily by too much social stimulation.

I do what I can to advocate for her.

When she moved to her new class this past Fall, I knew there would be a lengthy period of adjustment. Drop-offs initially took half-an-hour or more. And while I know for most children the drop-them-off-and-run method works well (I have seen this is true), I have also learned from experience that Jena is not most children.

A quick drop-off before she's ready leads to 30+ minutes of crying (and I mean crying) by herself in the middle of the classroom, refusing to let anyone comfort her (thank you preschool web-cams). A quick drop-off before she's ready leads to her leaving the room when the teacher looks away and running down the hall, trying to get out the door trying to find me (thank you double door & extra security system at the entrance). A quick drop-off before she is ready leads to unnecessary added stress for her, for me, for the teachers, and a major disruption for the rest of the students.

Opposed to what some folks think, I didn't extend her drop-offs because "oh I can't bear to leave my child", or because "I don't want to see her shed a tear", but because I know it was what was best for her (and really for everyone).

It took three months for us to work our way to the quick drop-off, but now most days I'm out of there in two minutes flat.

She's comfortable now. She has made friends. She knows what to expect. She has had ample time to observe, adjust, and learn what is going to happen.

I should mention here that during the three months they had some staff rotations, so she went thru 3 teaching assistants in three months, including losing her most favorite one ever, that had coincidentally come up from her old class. I am sure that inconsistency led to the adjustment taking even longer than it would have otherwise.

She is very quiet, still. We've discussed with the teacher, as sometimes this lack of communication leads to the teacher not realizing how much Jena actually knows. She has a very good teacher, who is tolerant and respectful of our daughter's personality.

I was also very quiet as a child. When starting Kindergarten (I did not attend preschool), I spoke so little at first that they thought I needed a speech therapist, as if I had difficulty actually speaking.

Still, she barely speaks, even to her friends. If questions are responded to at all, it is usually with a nod or turn of the head (if a 'yes' or 'no' question), or with a sort of grunting sound, often followed by her running away, depending on her level of comfort at the moment.

She does not greet her teachers or classmates in the morning, does not even echo their greetings.

She does not tell them good-bye, even when they sing out a chorus of farewells to her.

She does not like to ask things, even of extended family members.

She prefers quiet to loud, alone to crowds, and talking to action.

She is her mother's daughter.

I struggle with how much to help her.

I hear that a lot - people hope I can help her with "how she is", with "her quirks", with "her shyness".

I know they mean well, but I can't help but hear them saying that they hope I can help change her, change who she is as a person.

Why is being shy, being an introvert, seen as bad in our society?

In our society that supposedly values diversity so much? That supposedly sings the praises of each of us being different? Yet if we aren't all social butterflies... there must be something wrong with us.

But... there's not.

There is nothing wrong with Jena.

Nothing at all.

She's an introvert. She's shy. It's part of who she is.

It's part of the wonderfulness of who she is. It's part of what makes her special.

Yes, I will work with her, to help her become more comfortable in certain settings.

At home and in the car we have begun practicing saying "Good Morning" to her teacher, and "Good Bye" to her classmates (so far we have gotten one waved good-bye from our practice, but no words, but... an improvement still!).

We have begun practicing asking for things that we need or want, and appropriate responses for if the answer is 'yes' or 'no':
    - asking Grandma if she can spend the night
    - asking teacher if she can have computer time
    - asking teacher if she can do math

Yes, I will work with her, so she can act & react suitably in age-appropriate social situations (saying 'hi' and 'goodbye' to friends), and I will work with her so she can advocate for herself by asking responsible grownups for things that she needs or wants.

But I will also advocate for her, educating those around her that there is nothing wrong with her, that she doesn't need changing, that she needs understanding (just like each & every one of us, right?).

I will accomplish both simultaneously by teaching her that no, she does not have to play with every group of children that comes along, but she does have to be nice to them, and she does have to turn down their requests politely (screaming & running away is not polite).

I will let her be her, but I will also do what I can to help her successfully navigate this extroverted world that we live in.

I will teach her, and I will advocate for her, but more than anything... I will accept her.


Unknown said...

You are describing my husband to a T. He did not speak to anyone but his mom up until 4 or 5. He is still the quiet one in the group. That is just who he is. We could not have to extroverted big mouths in our marriage and make it work. He is the ying to my yang (which ever is which). It works, it is who he is.

Just make sure she has the social skills to function in society, the rest is just who she is. As long as she is okay with it, who cares about the rest of the world.

Diane said...

You just described me as a child. I was an extreme introvert in social situations and around people I did not know. I never, ever talked at elementary school unless my very life depended on it. I didn't even go to kindergarten. (That was before they were in the public schools and it was more like an optional preschool.)

Of course, no one used the terms "introvert" and "extrovert" back then, at least not around me. I was always made to feel like something was wrong with me.

I am still introverted of course but as I matured, I learned to manage myself in social situations better. I think the things you are doing to help her are wonderful. I always felt that everyone was trying to force me to me an extrovert, something I was most definitely not ever going to be.

My oldest is introverted though not to the same extreme. Understanding and support are so important and sounds like you're doing a great job at that!

ChristineMM said...

You said you are teaching her to say hello and it is polite, but she has not done it yet. Have you explained the opposite, that to not respond (as our society deems is normal) is rude?

Often sensitive kids hate the idea that what they do is being perceived as mean or rude or unkind. Have you tried that tact?

With all due respect I think your definition of introvert is not the norm, what you describe, especially the crying fits and deep fear of being left at preschool sound like actual anxiety. Have you looked into seeing if she has anxiety and an anxiety disorder?

I know a boy who acted much like this. It is not fixed yet in grade 3 despite years of therapy and a diagnosis of selective mutism and now he's on meds but it is still not working. He only recently admitted he chooses to not talk and it's like a manipulation game to him. He finds the whispering and choosing who to talk to as a game for fun. I will withhold my opinion on that.

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