Nurture the introvert child

NEW YORK • In primary school, Marsha Pinto's teacher wanted her to talk more.

"She even said if I didn't participate, I would fail," says Ms Pinto, 21, a recent college graduate who now lives in New York City.

The pressure from the teacher, along with bullying by a group of girls who teased her about being "weird", took its toll."I came home crying a lot," she says.

Ms Pinto was, and is, an introvert.

Ms Linda Silverman, director of the Gifted Development Centre in Denver and author of Upside-Down Brilliance, says introverts can become overloaded or drained by the outside world.

Fortunately, Ms Pinto's parents were supportive of her natural tendencies. Instead of pushing her to be more extroverted, they appreciated her as she was.

Now, she works as an advocate for young introverts.

Here are suggestions on how parents can help introverts thrive.

Nudge but be patient: Psychology professor John Zelenski at Carleton University in Ottawa has done research which shows that with more engagement, introverts can refine their social skills and increase their confidence.

Children also change, and over time may become more interested in socialising or even leadership roles, and then could regret not having developed those skills, he says.

Provide practice: Give your child safe places to try being more outgoing and allow them to get comfortable with it. Ask the child to explain an interest to a familiar adult, for example, or suggest that he orders his own food at a restaurant.

Help them find a niche: Parents should help introverts find activities they enjoy and are successful at. Actors and other performers often are introverts. Ms Pinto found she was comfortable as a speaker when the words were provided.

Carefully plan encounters: Introverts might feel more comfortable if they arrive early for a birthday party or go with a friend.

Allow them to join activities slowly or stay on the outskirts and plan for a break if they get overwhelmed.

Build in structure: At home, give the child quiet time, but have normal expectations for chores, homework and keeping to a regular schedule. Introverts, warns Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert's Way, can get lost in a book or a movie, so structure is important.

Teach mindfulness: Research shows that introverts benefit from relaxation techniques more than extroverts because their brains are more easily aroused, which causes them to avoid stimulation and feel better when they calm down, says professor Peter O'Connor at Queensland University of Technology in Australia.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 04, 2017, with the headline 'Nurture the introvert child'. Print Edition | Subscribe