Issue and my view
How do I make my child play with others? Why does my child have a shy personality? Why doesn’t she participate much in class? Why doesn’t he take part in debates or dramatics? Why can’t she be happy on her own birthday and enjoy with others? These are just some of the questions that anxious and worried extroverted parents might ask. One of the biggest misperception with understanding the psychology & personality of kids particularly in subcontinent including India and Pakistan is that there must be one right type of personality. Well, it cannot be more wrong. Let’s be very clear from the offset; an extrovert (as in Myers Briggs Type Indicator also popularly known as MBTI) does not always have to be a good speaker or a debater and an introvert will not always be a good thinker.
These preferences are just show how comfortable we can be with things you like or not. Most of these preferences are what we are born with. Introversion and extroversion are approaches towards personality and do not necessarily reflect the skill or ability level of an individual. You will be surprised to know that Steve Jobs, who appeared to be an excellent converser, was identified as an introvert by people close to him. Steve Wozniak who co-founded apple along with Steve Jobs, always worked behind the scenes but was identified as an extrovert by those close to him. This just shows that we can be very good at things we are not natural at. Psychology& personality, though pretty interesting, is not as straight forward as one might wonder. It is like an iceberg which has more concealed than what meets the eye.
Defining Introversion and understanding it
For the benefit of all let’s first understand what introversion means. Merriam-Webster defines Introversion as “to turn inward or in upon itself: such as to concentrate or direct upon oneself”. In simpler words introvert implies a person who takes more energy from being on their own. Introverts might mingle up with people but their natural inclination is towards the world inside them and not outside. They are more comfortable reflecting themselves through writing than speaking. They are relatively more likely to weigh in their words before speaking up. They might want private space more and would want to wind up a day by relaxing at home, probably watching some TV or reading a book.
How introverts are viewed.
From the outside perspective it may appear that an introvert child is shy, under confident, disinterested, rude, misfit, boring and so on. This is not the case. Every child is unique and they must be handled as such. Our society is deeply entrenched in the dilemma of idealism. We look towards personalities and not their actions. Personalities do not always have to be right or wrong whereas actions mostly are more stringently assessed. A society that thrives on family interaction may consider a quiet person as an outcast or a misfit. Parents must realize that they need to teach their children to dwell on actions and try to see them on their independent merits; every kind of personality has something we can learn from. Once we typecast a person as good or bad we start analyzing their actions with the rigid narrow lens. This leads to stereotyping.
What parents do wrong?
What parents tend to do is that they identify a person who they think is a star student or another kid in the family or a successful elder and impose it as a role model for their children to follow. This is where the trouble begins. A child is made to feel substantially low as the comparison is being made with a so-called ‘superior person’. Thus begins the foundations for a life long suffering caused by a possible inferiority complex. Some children can overcome this through hard work and sometimes luck but most will struggle.
Extroverted parents can have a tendency to invade the space of their introverted children. The trouble with such approach is that the over enthusiastic parents fail to decide if their child actually needs such energy from these activities or would they be more productive by just being alone. A typical gesture in such situations which all introvert children have heard at some point of time it “What are you doing all alone in your room? Come down and sit where everyone is”.
This is not it; there is another down side of it. Extroverted parents are not the best of listeners and this may end up frustrating the introverts as they are already very particular about their words and want the others to pay them complete attention. First day at a new school might be an exciting experience for an extroverted child but may be too overwhelming for an introverted child. This is absolutely normal. Introverts will take time in getting themselves familiar with a new place and making new friends. They, however, may make fewer friends as compared to extrovert children.
The pace of how introverts do things is internally driven and when someone tries to change it abruptly; conflict occurs. Introverts are not slow learners, they are keen and deep learners hence the issue of taking more time to get around things in life. It is pretty normal for an introverted student to come home and not talk much about the day they have had at school. An extroverted parent must not push their children to reveal a lot at once. There is no point in knocking on their door again and again as they will open the door themselves in due course of time.
What parents can do
From a psychological standpoint it can be pretty daunting for the extroverted parents to bring up an introverted child. The earlier the parents can identify the unique gifts that introverts possess, the better. As more time passes and children enter in to teen age it will get somewhat difficult to manage them and bring the best out of them. By then some parents may already start losing hope and in the process, bring down the confidence level of the child as well. By the time a child enters teenage they are already in an unfamiliar territory; swimming in deep waters without a life jacket.
Western societies have produced presidents, philosophers, scientists alike who were introverts and extroverts. Isaac Newton, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, George Washington, Mark Zcukerberg, Thomas Jefferson, and Mahatma Gandhi are few of examples who were comfortable introverts. People close to Adolf Hitler and Osama Bin laden also identified them as introverts.
My idea of discussing all these people is not to propagate introversion or to the contrary. My thesis is pretty simple. Each child has a natural preference and there are certain challenges of raising introvert children as much as there are for extrovert children. Over the years I have had to work with introverted children who wanted to move in to careers like Sales and Marketing that require an extroverted approach towards life. They were very good at communicating but didn’t like it much. Surprised? Don’t be! I see this thing every day. We might not be good at what we like and we might be good at what we don’t like. Things can always be worked out & developed but how will they if we don’t even know where we are going. Because if we don’t, how will we ever know if we were to get there?
What parents should never do?
Though the psychology of a child varies a lot with every kid but there are some umbrella traits that most introvert kids will possess and the parents would be doing themselves and their child a great favor by steering clear of a few things.
Parents must not think that their children are doing something on purpose to disobey them. This is an issue with their biology; not with their choice.
Never try to pull a child completely towards your side, instead try to meet them halfway down the bridge. Parents will be amazed to see how accommodating introverts can be once they feel they are being understood and not being overwhelmed.
If you want to make them more social don’t give them too many surprises by asking them speak in front of a lot of people. Take it one step at a time.
Introverts will sometimes not even want to talk about their accomplishments, they will actually like it if one of their parents can speak up for them at times.
Don’t push them to go to new places and meet new people too often. Start slow by doing it once in a while, you will be surprised to see how adaptive introverts can be but they might want to do things on their own terms. Let them take breaks from socializing.
Introverted children must never be made to feel that their parents haven’t got their back. They should be supported even when they go wrong especially if they worked hard. Risk taking must never be discouraged; it just needs to be channelized. Let them know mistakes are acceptable but it is equally important to learn from mistakes.
Having said that the introverted children must be pushed gently to stand on their own. They should learn to solve their everyday problems themselves without their parents’ support. They should realize that their opinions matter, and speaking up helps.
Introverted children will rarely ask for it but they would really appreciate if one of their parents stays in touch with the teachers and helped them understand the child.
Un-label your child immediately and don’t let anyone else call them shy or boring either. Introvert child will have insights which extroverts might lack. Let them know of their unique gifts and keep appreciating.
Some Stats & way forward
All cases of introverted children might not be as straightforward but there are certain assessments which can help parents understand the psychology of their children better and prepare them for meeting the challenges that lie ahead. Different career options are available for introverted people.
Just to get another interesting insight into the world of careers for introverts, only 39% of high school students identify themselves as introverts. Not surprisingly though 51.3% of engineering students identify themselves as introverts. Only 29.7% of the commerce and business students identify themselves as introverts. 62% of the science students and over 75% of fine arts students consider themselves as introverts. These numbers provide a very interesting insight in to how personality of a child can determine which career may be better for them.
Ideally parents in Pakistan should take either of the better known tests including the MBTI (The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator ®), Strong Interest Inventory or Career Interest Inventory; the last two based on John Holland’s six codes of personality. The important thing here is to always go for an official assessment through a certified practitioner. MBTI is used by almost 100% of the top colleges and universities including the Ivy League universities. These assessments should not be used as a reaction only when parents see a need; the career planning should always be preempted.
By Manzar Bashir
Chartered MCIPD, Principal Practitioner Association for Business Psychology UK