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How to Connect with a Quiet Kid

Posted by Jen on January 20, 2010 at 7:00 AM in Connecting with kids
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jonah crawls

If you are a talkative, social parent like myself, it can be hard to know what to make of the one child at your house who can go through his days virtually silent, except for the sound of pages turning. I'm overstating the case, but you know this kid when you see her--quiet, reserved, shy even--that is until you she starts to warm up. How do you connect with this kind of child--especially when your preferred style of relating is active conversation? Here are some tips from my experience with my very introverted son Carter:

Hit the books. If you're like me, introversion can be a bit of a mystery. I needed a better understanding of this personality type before I could fully engage Carter on his terms. You can do your research by reading books such as The Introvert Advantage or engaging quieter friends or family members about what helped them feel connected when they were children. An unexpected visit from a much loved (and rather introverted) aunt was key in helping me understand Carter on a deeper level.

I'll have the regular.
Since Carter is less likely to bounce into the kitchen and announce how he's feeling on any given day, it's essential that we have regular time together alone without interruption. For a few years now, we've made it a habit to go to a local pizza parlor together to enjoy a slice. We sit at the same table, facing the same direction, and we order the same thing from the same server. As an introvert, Carter can be easily overstimulated, so the familiarity of this routine makes the space he needs to relax and feel most like himself. Now that we've been doing this for awhile, Carter knows he can ask for "mother/son time" anytime he needs to feel more connected. It's his way of letting me know--without too many words--that's he needs a little extra attention. For those times we can't get to the pizza place, a simple bowl of yogurt by candlelight will fix him up just fine.

Silence is golden. I can not emphasize enough how essential sharing quiet time is for your relationship with your introverted child. It's a phenomenon that I don't quite understand, but Carter totally fills up when he and I are sharing anything in silence together--a car ride, a night time snuggle, a quiet snack. Something about proximity plus tenderness minus conversation equals nurture for my quiet boy. I have learned that some of our most important connecting times happen when no one says a word.

Still waters run deep. Understand that these kids are emotional sponges for every word spoken at your house. I've learned to check-in with Carter whenever there's been a lot of chaos in the house--either due to change in schedule, sibling rivalry or marital unrest. Little questions like "How're you doin', bud?" or "How 'bout a hug?" are sometimes all Carter needs to melt into my arms. Reflective listening is a big connector, too. All I have to say is "Buddy, you look like you might want to cry" and there go the flood gates. Since introverted kids sometimes need time to process their feelings, hugs and kind gestures are great for helping them let go of bottled up emotion.

We get there when we get there.
Quiet kids sometimes need more time to make transitions. Change can be draining and use up extra energy, so make sure you have plenty of down time built into the schedule. Carter hates to be rushed and simply shuts down if you apply too much pressure. I've learned that giving him a little bit of space on the onset is all he needs to speed himself up, just in time.

Say that one more time. During our mother/son outings, I've made it a point to introduce Carter to the art of conversation. Since some introverts struggle with making small talk on the fly, I want to give Carter the skills he needs to feel comfortable later in life. When Carter was very young, I asked simple questions like "What's your favorite animal?" or "What's your favorite color?" in order to keep the conversation going. Doing this at every outing helped him learn the rhythm of conversation; he's now a very reciprocating and pleasant conversation partner. I know that learning how to chat has been a confidence-builder for Carter, and a skill he can use now without reservation.

These are just a few suggestions from one extroverted mom who's needed to learn a lot about introversion living in this particular household. Are you an introvert? Are your kids? I'd love to hear your feedback in the comments below.


Eleanor writes...

We have the opposite issue in our house. Two extroverted kids. Two introverted parents (not sure how that happened but it did). Must say that I have been forced out of my shell on many occasions because of this, but it presents its challenges. The need for quiet time still exists, but not always easy to come by. I'm thinking it might be harder to have your situation though, because at least I have the benefit of being the adult and having more life experience that allows me to push myself out of the introvert's box. As a primarily introverted adult (i.e. small talk is painfully difficult at times, but I do enjoy being around others and the art of conversation - still much more of a listener and absorber than a talker - but it depends on the subject at hand) who once was an introverted, at times "painfully shy," "overly sensitive" child, I feel for Carter. Good job for recognizing his needs and continuing to try to meet him where he is. We introverts like to process things for a long time and we thrive in the company of people who are patient and willing to give us the time we need. :-)

Introverster writes...

One of the best lists I've seen:

* Respect their need for privacy.

* Never embarrass them in public.

* Let them observe first in new situations.

* Give them time to think. Don’t demand instant answers.

* Don’t interrupt them.

* Give them advanced notice of expected changes in their lives.

* Give them 15 minute warnings to finish whatever they are doing before calling them to dinner or moving on to the next activity.

* Reprimand them privately.

* Teach them new skills privately rather than in public.

* Enable them to find one best friend who has similar interests and abilities:
encourage this relationship even if the friend moves.

* Do not push them to make lots of friends.

* Respect their introversion. Don’t try to remake them into extraverts.

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