Susan Cain on Parenting Introverted Kids

Hi, Read it Forward readers! My name is Susan Cain, and my book, QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, is coming out in January 2012. The book is about the surprising advantages of being an introvert in an extroverted world. I’ve spent the last five years researching this subject – though in some ways, I’ve been researching it all my life.

One of the things I’ve repeatedly found is that often passionate readers, including myself, identify as having more introverted personalities, and so I really look forward to chatting with you about this very idea in the coming months! If you haven’t taken it yet, here’s a RIF Facebook poll asking whether “bookish people” typically are more introverted. (Click through to see the results so far.)

But given the back-to-school time of year, I wanted to talk briefly about parenting introverted kids. Being introverted in and around the school setting can be challenging for kids, but from the research I’ve done, as well as talking with so many parents and teachers, I know that introverted kids can thrive incredibly well. They often just need a somewhat different style of nurturing from more extroverted kids. Today I’d like to share with you five of my favorite tips for parenting introverted kids.

And you can click through to my blog to read five more tips for parenting introverted kids. Do you have an introverted child or know someone who does? Please let me know if you find these tips helpful!

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1. Introverted kids usually have the capacity to develop great passions. Cultivate these enthusiasms. Intense engagement in an activity is a proven route to happiness and well-being, and a well-developed talent is a great source of confidence. Traditional childhood activities like soccer and piano may work well for some kids, but don’t forget to look off the beaten path. For example, Writopia Labs is a New York City-based creative writing program that has created a fantastic community for cerebral kids.

2. If your child is reluctant to try new things or meet new people, the key is gradual exposure. Don’t let him opt out, but do respect his limits, even when they seem extreme. Inch together toward the thing he’s wary of. When he takes social risks, let him know that you admire his efforts: “I saw you go up to those new kids yesterday. I know that can be difficult, and I’m proud of you.” Point out to him when he ends up enjoying things he thought he wouldn’t like or that he was initially scared of. Eventually he will learn to self-regulate his feelings of wariness.

3. If your child is shy, don’t let her hear you call her by that label, and talk to her teachers about this too. She’ll start to experience her nervousness as a fixed trait rather than as an emotion she can learn to control. She also knows full well that “shy” is a stigmatized word in our society. When others call her shy in front of her (which they will), reframe it lightly. “Sophie is great at sussing out new situations.”

4. Get to know the school, or any new setting such as a party or after-school activity, with your child. If he’s nervous about a new school or class, bring him to see his classroom, meet his teacher, figure out where the bathroom is, and so on. Let your child feel as if others are joining him in a space that he “owns,” rather than having to break into a preexisting group.

5. If you have an “orchid child,” you are very lucky: If your child is “highly sensitive” – the term for kids who are sensitive to lights, sounds, emotional experiences, and/or new situations — then he probably fits into a category of children known as “orchid” children. This term derives from a groundbreaking new theory captivating the attention of research psychologists.

It holds that many children are like dandelions, able to thrive in just about any environment. But others, including highly sensitive kids, are more like orchids. They wilt easily, but if they have good childhoods they can actually do better than dandelion children. They’re often healthier, have better grades, enjoy stronger relationships, and so on.

If you want to know more, I’ve written about how to parent sensitive orchid children: and science writer David Dobbs is publishing a book about it. In the meantime, you should know that one leading orchid theory researcher, Jay Belsky of the University of London, explained to me that the parents of orchid kids are very lucky because “the time and effort they invest will actually make a difference. Instead of seeing these kids as vulnerable to adversity, parents should see them as malleable – for worse, but also for better.”

SUSAN CAIN has been a consultant to major corporations and law firms and has coached individuals on negotiation and personal presentation style. She lives in the Hudson River Valley with her husband and two sons.

Join the conversation with Susan Cain at her blog, and on Facebook and Twitter @SusanCain

About Kira Walton

KIRA WALTON has been stalking books all her life as a college English teacher, bookseller, book club consultant, author, and editor.

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