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An introvert’s guide to parenting an extrovert child

Using an acronym, these simple steps will help you channel your thoughts, and give you ideas about how to build a strong relationship with your extrovert child while continuing to love your own style as well

By Fatema Agarkar

Every parent has that one aspiration that their child is an outgoing, friendly and socially-comfortable individual. Many strive hard to expose their children to different situations to groom them accordingly. This works out perfectly if the parents themselves are social and outgoing. The challenge arises when one or both parents are introverts and find this journey of raising their extrovert child both terrifying and awkward.

You see extroverts, in general, thrive off other people’s energy, being around people, including strangers, and drawing them out into conversations. While this sounds wonderful to those who love meeting new people and enjoying conversations about anything and everything, introverts find this a struggle and difficult to step out of their comfort zone. Instead of striking up a conversation with a stranger at a coffee shop, they would prefer to sit by the window, quietly reading the newspaper by themselves. They need to be alone and their private space is precious, just as for an extrovert, ‘doing something all the time’ with someone is crucial for survival.

Ah – now you see the conflict?

Well, researchers have documented the plight of introverted parents who have described their journey as ‘difficult, emotionally draining and exhausting’ when raising a child who is all about enthusiasm for experimenting, taking risks, meeting people, and extending the friend circle to include the whole universe. What are some strategies that can help an introvert parent continue to support their extrovert child to blossom and enjoy their wonderful traits?

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Using a word that introvert parents are familiar with, here is the acronym INTROVERT to give you some guidelines:

I : Interesting and deep conversations mean a lot to you, so indulge in them. While you can ‘get through’ some time playing ‘make-belief’ and pretend-play, ensure that you also spend time discussing things that are important to you, to let your child know that you enjoy this too! It will be the refuel you need to motivate yourself to indulge in the pretend-play that your child demands. Just as they need ‘their’ energy, you need yours, too. For example, make the bed-time cuddle about ‘talk-time’ and lead the conversations privately with your child, and share. Children are super quick to pick up behavioural needs and will respond accordingly. Similarly, when in the car or over dinner, spend some time talking about things that matter to you, and this balance of theirs and yours, will help immensely in creating a strong respectful bond. 

N : Navigate social interactions and play dates with a combination of delegating it at times to your spouse (hopefully, he is more comfortable with social settings). If both spouses are uncomfortable with birthday parties, work out if a friend can accompany a child at times, or you can find that one parent who is like you in your child’s circle and with whom you can coordinate. As adults, it will be important to understand that the child needs this social interaction and play-dates almost like oxygen for survival and to evolve. Remember your non-participation will be taken as a sign that you don’t care, so you have to be conscious of how you handle it. Children will not understand how difficult it is for you till they are in their teens; hence, you will have to find ways to balance your time in such situations, and enlisting the help of friends or family is one way to cope.

T : Time-outs. This one is not for your children, although we often associate it with them; taking some time out to enjoy your own private time can be helpful. For example, after a meal, when the kids want to play a board game, see if your spouse or in-laws can participate, and you take a few extra minutes cleaning up. Perhaps an extended bath hour, or reading quietly after the chores are done, will help ease your nerves, and give you the space to re-join the banter when you are ready. You need not feel guilty about this. It is almost like regaining your breath after a workout. It helps!

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R : Respecting strengths and weaknesses is a key part of any relationship, and so is being comfortable with it. Your child’s strengths must make you grateful but your hesitancy to participate in everything that is outgoing need not drain you. Give children an indication that as a family, you are united but also have your own preferences and each one must be respected. Over time, children will recognise your need for space, and love you for it, when it is explained in a manner that is positive and celebrates their unique qualities and what makes you comfortable. Lots of talking, reading books, and watching movies like that will help to bring out these characteristics in a non-threatening manner.

O : Optimising exposure and understanding the need for your child to be surrounded by people, will make them happier and more in control. It is the oxygen for them. Plan wisely. These days, primary children are super independent and can manage to ‘fix’ their own play-dates, etc., and all you must do is schedule it. In fact, you can also excuse yourself at times by being honest about the need to ‘get some me time’ and reciprocate the favour so that it becomes a more well-oiled ‘give and take’. Most parents will appreciate honesty.

V : Validating the child’s personality. It is important that your child knows from time to time that you appreciate and value his/her personality. Letting them know privately and publicly how proud you are; it is crucial as they need acknowledgment and recognition.

E : Enjoy being you. We have discussed this before that just as you celebrate your child’s personality, you must enjoy yours as well. The diversity brings out the uniqueness as a family, and each member contributes. Your need to be private is as much a celebration as the need to recognise an outgoing personality

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R : Reaching out for help. While most of these will come in handy, at times it does get overwhelming, and that’s when you reach out to specialists and professionals who are trained to help you cope with your thoughts and acts. Consulting a therapist will help you express yourself, and prioritise what your trigger points are, which keeps you better prepared.

: Talking strategy – your role is to listen. Introverts are great listeners, so play that part to perfection. Maintain a journal of what you feel if you did not get a chance to express in that conversation, and re-visit this to determine how to cope and manage. Many times, you will realise that you ‘stressed’ for minute things which did not need that attention!

Using the acronym, these simple steps will help you channel your thoughts, and give you ideas about how to build a strong relationship with your extrovert child while continuing to love your own style as well. Also, don’t forget to count your blessings – you are blessed with what most parents are desirous of – an extrovert child.

(The writer is an educationist and the founder of ACE)

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