Dear Fellow Soccer Mom: I’d Be So Grateful If You’d Talk to Me

Dear Fellow Soccer Mom: I’d Be So Grateful If You’d Talk to Me

By Kristen De Deyn Kirk

Soccer Ball on Blackboard


We’re both watching our teens play soccer, and we’re likely to see each other three times a week for a few months, so please allow me to introduce myself: I’m Kristen, middle-aged mom of two teens. I’m an introvert who knows for sure that “introvert” does not mean “anti-social.”

Let me explain. Most days, I talk to no one outside of my family. It’s my fault; I choose to be a freelance writer, comfy in my yoga pants and day-old hairdo, at home, with my laptop. Yep, me and my laptop.

Sounded ideal at first. Then the loneliness kicked in.

My next-door neighbor, a fellow work-at-home mom, used to be reliable for a couple of chats a week near the mailbox. But she moved.

My other friends are weighed down with homeschooling, from-home businesses or traditional jobs. We catch up once a month in person, a true treat.

If only those 29 days between get-togethers flew by instead of dragging….

So, fellow soccer mom, when I see you standing near the field, I smile. Forgive me, my smile might be too wide, and as I approach you, I might talk too loudly.

I’m not completely crazy, I promise. I’m grateful to see someone who is around my age, who gets the agony and amazement of raising teens and who is bravely stepping outside the safety of her minivan.

You can talk about whatever you want. Tell me your son is not much of a talker, and you wonder if that’s true in school, too. I’ll understand when your face lights up when you then see him chatting with a teammate. (My face did the same at our last game, when my son saw an old friend and actually walked over to him to talk.) If you’d rather talk about the long drive you have to the practice field, and how your husband can’t get out of work in time, that’s fine too. I will commiserate and share that mine is hoping to drive to the next practice. We like the dads involved, don’t we? You can also mention that you’re starting a full-time job soon and you’re thinking of a million contingency plans. What happens if the school bus doesn’t come in the morning — and you’ve already left for work? What if one of your children has an afterschool club and no school-provided transportation back home? How will you manage dinner and then practice if you’re late driving home because of traffic? My heart will ache for you, and I’ll tell you I get it: The trade-off for a full-time job is a gut-wrenching juggle of responsibilities. As we continue to talk, you can even go political and tell me you love the candidate I hate. I’ll appear diplomatic. I’ll ask questions, and you’ll think I’m in the undecided camp. Or if you’d rather keep the conversation light and mention your addiction to The Real Housewives of New York City, Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders: Making the team and The Property Brothers, I’ll do my best to play it cool, nod in agreement and save my happy dance for the privacy of my kitchen.

If you want to talk as long as that last paragraph, I’ll listen.

If you want to talk as short as this sentence, I’ll talk instead. Either way, I’d be happy.

Kristen De Deyn Kirk is a freelance writer from Virginia. She writes about parenting, education, politics and wine — and dreams of regular assignments that combine the four. She tweets at @KristenKirk.

Photo: Getty Images

Parenting as an Introvert/Parenting as an Extrovert

Parenting as an Introvert/Parenting as an Extrovert


How does personality affect parenting? Lindsey Mead is an introvert and relishes quiet family time above all else. Allison Slater Tate is an extrovert, always on the look out for the next adventure. Their children’s lives are quite different as a result.

Parenting as an Introvert

By Lindsey Mead

Introvert Revised w gray“Mum?” I glance up from my desk to see Whit standing in the doorway of my office, a forlorn look on his face.


“I’m bored. May I have a playdate tomorrow with George?” His knees are smudged with mud. It’s mid October, and we live in Boston, but Whit is still wearing shorts every day. I had asked our babysitter to stay with him at the playground at school after the day ended.

“Sure. Did you play today on the playground?”

“Yeah. But everybody left and went home, and John went to George’s house. We came back here. I just wish I could have had a friend over.” He frowns.

“Okay, yes. I’ll text George’s mother now.” I look down at my phone and tap out a text. I feel a sinking in my belly. I have let Whit down again. We never have enough social activities planned for his taste. I think some of it is because I work and I’m not there at pickup to make spontaneous after-school plans. But I know a lot of it stems from my innate introversion, too.

My childhood was of a distinctly the-more-the-merrier variety. My mother never met someone she didn’t want to welcome with open arms, and my memory of my childhood home is of a steady stream of friends and visitors. My sister and I used to joke that it wasn’t Thanksgiving without a foreign student or two whom we’d never met at the table. My memory of my family (and my continuing experience of it) is of a roving, magnanimous extroversion that manifests itself in a million friends, a phone that’s always ringing, a lot of plans, dinner parties, coffees, and people stopping by just because. One of my mother’s many gifts is her immediate and expansive warmth. She has always attracted people to her, and, like a sun, is surrounded by more orbiting planets than I can count.

I am not that kind of mother. I fiercely wish I was. My natural orientation is inwards.  On the upside, I tell myself that Grace and Whit are growing up certain that our nuclear family is holy to me. I prize time spent the four of us, alone, above almost all else. When we have an empty day, without school or sports games or any commitments, my immediate and powerful instinct is that we do something as a family. Truthfully, it’s not, hey, let’s bring some friends along.

But there is a downside, of course. What are we losing because of my bias towards quiet?

Both of my children have friends I think are terrific and whose company I enjoy. But there is something I find vaguely stressful, in an inchoate, inarticulate way, about having other people in our home. This is true even with my own friends. We don’t have visitors very often. I’m always glad when we do, but it exhausts me to have people here. Maybe it’s our small house. The noise bothers me, absolutely, but is it something else, too? I don’t know, but whatever the reason, I struggle to initiate and organize playdates as often as either child would like.

Birthday parties are also something that I dread thinking about, even though I end up enjoying them. I worry about the chaos and the crowds and, perhaps most of all, that my discomfort will cause me to let Grace and Whit down. When the children were little I used to love planning parties, with themes and stationery and favors. I remember vividly the personalized melamine plates I made for the children who attended Whit’s clown-themed three-year birthday, and the superhero capes with each child’s initial on the back for the attendees of Grace’s six-year party. I loved these tasks, probably because I envisioned and executed them in the quiet of my office.

Now, perhaps because the terrain of friendship has become more complicated, because the stakes seem to have gone up in birthday party land (a clown no longer thrills), or simply because I’m becoming more introverted as I age, I find Grace and Whit’s parties—both the planning and the attendance of—more strenuous than I used to.

I often wish I could replicate the kind of merry, go-with-the-flow warmth that animated my own childhood. We live near school, and I really want to be an open-door mother, with other children running through my kitchen as comfortably as my own kids do. The fact of the matter is, though, I just don’t think I’ll ever be that person.

Grace, whose personality is more like mine, chooses quiet and often prefers to be home, alone, studying or reading. Whit, whose natural extroversion is something I both admire and find baffling, is routinely dismayed by the lack of playmates nearby. My relationship with him is an interesting echo of the dynamic I shared with my own mother. That his orientation towards the world is so different from mine creates opportunities for both learning and, of course, friction.

My introversion and natural shyness surely means many things for my children, good and bad. I worry that the bad outweighs the good, that my lack of outgoingness and my struggle to include other people in our life sacrifices something important for them. All I can do, though, is be the best version of who I know I am. All I can do is swear that I will keep trying to open up—myself, our home, and our family.

Lindsey Mead is a mother, writer, and financial services professional who lives near Boston with her daughter, son, and husband. Her work has appeared in a variety of print and online sources, several anthologies, and she blogs regularly at A Design So Vast.


Parenting as an Extrovert

By Allison Slater Tate

Extrovert w grayOn a recent day off from school, I took my kids to a local breakfast diner for pancakes. “Hey, Allison! You have everyone today!” the hostess called to me when we walked through the door. Our waiter told me he read my latest blog post as he put a Diet Coke down in front of me before I could ask for it, and another waitress passing by asked me how my trip to California was last week. I waved and greeted two other tables, one inhabited by my assistant principal from high school, another by a fellow mom from the elementary school.

“Everyone knows you,” grumbled my ten-year-old, slumping down a little in the booth as if to regain some anonymity. “That’s what happens when you live where you grew up,” I remind him.

Of course, it is more than that. I definitely do know a lot of people in my suburb, because I grew up here and I still run into former teachers and classmates and their parents often. But I also know “everyone,” at least in my children’s eyes, because I have spent a lot of time in our communities, both real and virtual, volunteering at my children’s schools and preschools and for local and alumni organizations. I crave connection, and I get it by throwing myself into everything I can. I also have a hard time staying within the four walls of home, which means that, yes, the staff of the local diner knows me and my children well.

I grew up the child of a resolute introvert and an even more resolute extrovert. My mother has never met a stranger, could talk for days on end without stopping, and truly hates to stay home. She was always up for any adventure at any time of day or night, and she encouraged me to have the same mindset. As my children say, “Grammy makes friends with everyone, and everyone likes Grammy.” I seem to have inherited her need for people and activity, to know and to be known, because I feel almost a physical need to be out in the world, meeting and connecting. I believe it’s a reason that I now have four children: I wanted, and thrive on, the chaos and noise of so many bodies in the house with me.

My children are hybrids of my introverted husband and me. My oldest often turns away friends at the door who come knocking to ask him to play, something I cannot fathom. He has a small cadre of very close friends, but he is happy to be alone and does not necessarily crave companionship. My middle two boys are more gregarious. They have best friends, but they are also friends with everyone in their classes and spend their weekends begging for playdates and going to birthday parties. It seems like I never make everyone happy: some combination of my children always wants to stay home and just play in pajamas all day, while another desperately wants to see a friend and get out of our house.

I encourage my children to make and spend time with friends. We don’t host events at our house as much as I would like because of logistics, but we ask friends to come over, we hold big, sprawling birthday parties, and I nudge my children to invite friends with us on adventures to the zipline or a football game. I don’t mind plus-ones; it makes me happy to have a car full of children and chatter. I hope that my children find confidence in my model of extroversion, because I tend to use it to overcome intimidation and fear. I hope they see it as warmth and openness to the world and other people. Because I have been so involved and engaged in various communities throughout my life, my children now have many chances to visit and experience cities and families all over the country through my friendships and connections.

That’s not always what they want, though. “You talk to everyone for soooo loooong,” my 12-year-old complains to me. “We are always sitting and waiting for you to finish talking.” He’s not wrong. And when I told my two middle children I was taking them to Disney’s Halloween party last week, my seven year old immediately asked, “Who are we meeting there?” When I said it would just be the three of us, he looked perplexed. “Oh,” he said finally, obviously confused by the concept.

Sometimes I wonder if my extroversion is a boon or a hindrance to my children. Do I push them out the door (or their comfort zones) too much, or just enough to teach them how to take risks and develop resourcefulness? Is my restlessness keeping us from honoring the quiet family moments – movie nights, board games, lazy days in our pajamas – or are we creating different kinds of family moments? Am I passing my restlessness on to my children, or am I giving them permission to fully engage in the world?

Like my own mother, I find that my extroversion makes me friends with spontaneity. I am up for late-night trips to diners, spur-of-the-moment road trips to cooler weather, impractical Disney jaunts on school nights. I feel like my children will remember me for this attitude of ready-for-anything, and I think it makes their childhood feel rich with possibility. But on the other hand, they might also remember that for me, it was never enough- never enough adventure, never enough friends, never enough time to do everything I wanted and needed to do. I hope that never makes them feel like they are not enough for me.

After a brief career in Hollywood, Allison Slater Tate decided to work somewhere even crazier: her own home, with her own four children, now ages 12 to 2. Her writing has appeared both in print and online, most notably at the Huffington Post, the Washington Post, Scary Mommy, and Brain, Child. She is both a Leo and ENFP and behaves accordingly. 

Illustrations by Christine Juneau

Quiet Riot: Celebrating Introverted Kids in an Extroverted World

Quiet Riot: Celebrating Introverted Kids in an Extroverted World

By Margret Aldrich

QuietRiotThe bus is four minutes away, and I’m crouched next to my reticent five-year-old, Abe—the King of Quiet and my favorite fledgling introvert. With my arm loose around his waist I talk to him about the sticky 85-degree August morning, the blue jay making a racket in the elm tree above us, and what to expect at his first day of kindergarten. (Oh, that. No big deal.)

Other kids from our block, already sweating from the early heat, mill about the bus stop, chatty and boisterous. But not Abe. He is silent, sandy blond head tilted down to study an anthill and his Keens. He sneaks a peek or two at the bigger kids but doesn’t interact with them or acknowledge the parents who giddily ask him “are you excited?” His expression is unreadable, hiding whatever thoughts about school are motoring around his ever-busy little mind. But as the bus rumbles closer, he raises his luminous light-green eyes and leans his forehead close.

“Rhinoceros kiss,” he says so only I can hear it, giving me a hint of his playful half-smile.

This kiss—a smooch on his proffered forehead, right where he imagines a rhinoceros’s horn would be—is his favorite kind. As good-natured and rambunctious as Abe can be (when in familiar territory), he’s always been hesitant about getting a peck on the cheek or lips. He was hesitant about a lot of things that intruded on his personal space or made him feel like the center of attention. (And don’t even think about forcing him into a conversation with Great Aunt Mattie at a family reunion.)

“He’s shy, huh?” says another mom, fanning herself with a newspaper, and I answer like I always do: “Oh, it just takes him a while to warm up.”

The big, bright school bus pulls to a stop by our corner, and when the door screeches open, it sounds like there’s a rave going on in there. Children are raucously talking and laughing, vibrating in their seats like caffeinated honeybees. Was I really sending my introverted kid into this hive of rough-and-tumble preschoolers, knockabout fifth graders, and everyone in between? Was I really tossing him into an unfamiliar routine and a classroom of strangers? He might be perfectly fine. Or he might spend the entire school day in silence, wooden and closed-off; a door with no key.

I smile and give Abe a reassuring squeeze. No Big Deal, I try to exude—for both of us. Snatching him up and abandoning the school bus for my good-old Jetta station wagon was sounding like a better and better idea.

“Have fun at kindergarten!” the more-experienced bus-stop mom shouts to him as he lines up behind the other kids. He glances at her but doesn’t respond; waves, stoically, to his dad and me; then gets to the business of climbing onboard, strapped to a dinosaur backpack as big as he is.

Innies and Outies

We’ve all heard the term, but what, exactly, is an introvert?

When in new situations, introverted kids hang back, unwilling to jump right in with the rest of the group, and they can seem timid or unfriendly to people who meet them for the first time. But introverts aren’t antisocial or lacking self-confidence. They simply need enough calm and quiet to balance out the hustling, bustling activity of their everyday lives.

In her book The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child, Marti Olsen Laney describes the difference between what she calls “innies” and “outies” this way: “I think of introverts as energy conservers, like rechargeable batteries that need ‘down time’ to restore their reserves,” she says. “Extroverts are energy spenders. Their motto is ‘Go, go, go.'”

Introversion—a word first popularized by psychologist Carl Jung (himself an introvert)—typically appears at a young age. A six-year-old named Lily, for example, might be talkative at home but clams up, tight as a lunchbox thermos, when the grocery store cashier asks her a question. Miles, a preschooler, might cling to his mother’s leg for the first hour of a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese, until he feels comfortable joining the fun. Fourth-grader Julia may seem like an observer in social and academic circles, even though at home she’s engaged in everything from baking muffins to breaking ground for a backyard archeological dig. And Josh, a seventh-grader, may mention only one or two close friends, even though he’s well-liked by his classmates.

All of these traits are in contrast to extroverts. They are charged up and chatty, expressive with their words, facial expressions, and body language. They join in activities readily and consider everyone a friend. They thrive on action and activity, and if they don’t have enough, you’ll soon hear the phrase they always carry in their back pocket: “Mom, I’m bored.”

Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes lies the ambivert. This individual enjoys the best of both temperaments: comfortable with rowdy occasions but equally able to treasure a peaceful day at home.

Neither the introverted or extroverted personality is better than the other—they’re simply different, points out Dawn Friedman, a family therapist based in Worthington, Ohio.

Friedman knows of what she speaks. Her household includes a smart, funny 16-year-old introvert named Noah, who displayed a few innie quirks from the get-go: “He liked preschool,” says Friedman, “but after the meager two and a half hours, he was done. He wouldn’t talk on the way home, and he’d be a little fragile for the rest of the day.”

As he got older, Noah—a handsome boy with tousled dark hair—intuitively developed ways to nurture his inner introvert. “His best friend was a fantastic kid who never ever wanted to be alone—totally high-energy extroverted,” Friedman says. “We’d be in the middle of a playdate and Noah would suddenly stand up and say, ‘I need to be alone now’ and would go to his room and shut the door. His friend would stay and chat with me until Noah came out ten minutes later, ready to play again.”

“What I like about Noah’s introversion,” she continues, “is the strength of his friendships and his ability to not fall into things that don’t interest him. He’s not one to succumb to peer pressure. Introverts tend to be thoughtful and intuitive, too, and he’s always been a particularly thoughtful, genuinely nice person.”

But as a parent and therapist, Friedman recognizes that introversion comes with real challenges. “The world is built for extroverts. Very often introverts are taught to fight their introversion—to suck it up and go glad hand people, try to be popular, have lots of friends—and that’s not the introverted way,” she says. “So when I get a child in my office who is clearly struggling in part because of her introversion, a big part of our work together is psychoeducation about introversion. Most of them are so relieved to find out that they’re perfectly wonderful, healthy people who just don’t happen to fit the currently popular mode.”

Like the mom at our bus stop, most people think of introverts as shy, but experts say introversion and shyness are not the same thing.

“Introverts don’t necessarily have a fear of social interaction, nor are they necessarily uncomfortable with social interaction—they just enjoy having time to themselves,” says Greg Markway, PhD, psychologist and coauthor of Nurturing the Shy Child. “Too much external stimulation or social activity wears them out.”

In contrast, shyness involves a degree of behavioral inhibition. That is, shy people might avoid going to a party because they’re afraid of what others think of them, while introverts might stay home because they prefer solitary pursuits. Shyness, accompanied by self-doubt and the anxiety of being judged, can be achingly painful, while introversion isn’t. And shyness isn’t hardwired—introversion is.

The shyness stigma is hard for introverted kids to shake off, though, especially when every adult they meet calls them shy. “It’s important not to pin a general label on kids,” says Markway. If you do, they might start to believe it, losing confidence and settling into the expectation that they don’t need to speak up. Introverted children can be shy, certainly, but the two traits don’t always go hand in hand.

The Nature of Introversion

My husband and I often wonder: Did Abe inherit our quiet-loving characters, like other kids inherit their dad’s nose or mom’s red hair? I call myself World’s Most Social Introvert, enthusiastically lunching with friends or swapping stories with colleagues at an industry happy hour, but quick to feel wrung-out if I overbook my calendar. My husband is an introvert in his own right, too—what they used to affectionately dub the “strong, silent type.”

While “nurture” certainly plays a role in shaping our children’s personalities, and experts generally agree that cautious parents are more likely to raise cautious kids, there is strong evidence that 40 to 50 percent of an introverted temperament can be chalked up to biology and a genetic, high-reactive personality.

A study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of California at San Diego, and Yale Universityin 2008 focused on one particular gene—RGS2—which may be indicative of introversion. “We found that variations in this gene were associated with shy, inhibited behavior in children, introverted personality in adults, and the reactivity of brain regions involved in processing fear and anxiety,” explained lead author Jordan Smoller, MD, ScD, director of the psychiatric and neurodevelopmental genetics unit at MGH’s Center for Human Genetic Research, in a press release.

Additional research into the biological nature of introversion has turned up lots of fascinating fodder over the decades. Scientific reports have shown that introverts appear to have greater blood flow in the parts of the brain that deal with planning and problem solving, for example, and they display more activity in their cerebral cortex, the outer layer of the brain, which regulates attention, thought, memory, and consciousness.

In the mid-1960s, scientists at Cambridge University discovered that introverts are physically more sensitive to things like food, noise, or social contact and have a more active reticular activating system, the area of your brain that responds to external stimuli. They famously illustrated this with the simple but striking “Lemon Juice Test“: When introverts received a sour squeeze of lemon juice on their tongues, they salivated much more than extroverts.

Katie Holley, a mom and marketing guru from White Bear Lake, Minnesota, has seen firsthand the depth of sensitivity introverts can have. In most ways, her blond-haired, blue-eyed son, Max, is an average second-grader who plays baseball, enjoys rock-climbing, and collects Pokemon cards. He loves school and works hard to get good grades. But he can be intensely sensitive, both emotionally and physically.

“In preschool he would hide under the chairs until circle time,” Holley says. “Now, as a second-grader, he’ll wait to be asked to join a game on the playground rather than just jump in. If he doesn’t get asked to play, he tells me nobody likes him.”

For Max, physical sensitivities manifested as stomachaches, but going gluten-free has helped. “He is also sensitive to how clothes fit and feel,” says Holley. “He likes things to be soft.”

Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan has hypothesized that certain physical traits correspond to introversion. Blue eyes, allergies, and fair skin—like Max’s—as well as thin, narrow faces in men, are all signs of high-reactivity, he speculates.

In one of Kagan’s studies—this one focused on personality—he discovered that when babies were given new, unfamiliar toys, they responded quite differently. Some infants showed signs of distress, while others reacted with interest, immediately reaching out for the new toy. Kagan called these temperaments “inhibited” or “uninhibited.”

While onlookers might gravitate toward the freewheeling, uninhibited child who happily grabs the new teddy bear or truck, both responses are valuable. “It’s important to keep in mind that neither response is superior to the other,” Markway reminds us. “Think of it this way—the world needs some people to be more cautious, and others to be risk-takers.”

Quiet Kids in a Loud World

Our cautious, thoughtful introverts indeed help make the world go ’round—and in wonderful ways. They can be respected leaders, like Barack Obama; forward-thinking innovators, like Bill Gates; sports virtuosos, like Joe DiMaggio; or administers of peace, like Mahatma Gandhi. They can follow in the footsteps of Albert Einstein, Emily Dickinson, Steven Spielberg, Charles Darwin, Fredric Chopin, Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln, Warren Buffet, or J. K. Rowling.

Introverts, who make up at least a third of our population, have a storehouse of positive qualities: They are smart and creative; independent, trustworthy, and responsible; empathetic and conscientious. And, slowly but steadily, introverts’ quiet strength is being recognized as a trait to be respected—and celebrated.

In 2012, Susan Cain‘s book QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, became a bestseller and her TED talk on the same subject went viral, getting more than 8 million views on YouTube, and counting.

“There’s so much that’s special about introverted kids,” Cain told me in a phone interview. “They have quick and ready access to the riches in their heads. They’re imaginative. They’re great at inventing games with their friends. And they are fiercely loyal friends, much more interested in forming close friendships than being part of the bigger, more gregarious group.”

Intriguingly, Cain points out, “Introverts are often passionate about one, two, or three specific things.” I can see this in my kindergartener, who is obsessed with rocks, ocean life, and Minecraft. Alison Krupnick, of Seattle, Washington, recognizes this focus in her bright, artsy daughter Melanie—an athletic 14-year-old with an equal appreciation for bawdy teenage antics and sophisticated, subtle humor.

“One of her hallmark personality traits is that when she’s interested in something, she throws herself into it,” Krupnick says of Melanie. “For years she was obsessed with Lord of the Rings. She went through a strong Harry Potter phase. And she’s currently a huge fan of Dr. Who.”

This kind of intensely-focused interest can, in fact, serve introverts well later in life, Cain says: “As adults, they become leaders in fields that they are truly passionate about, unlike extroverts, who can pursue leadership roles just for the sake of being leaders.”

And as Cain notes in her book, passion can have extraordinary results. “Some of our greatest ideas, art, and inventions—from the theory of evolution to van Gogh’s sunflowers to the personal computer—came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there,” she writes. Without that innovative, self-searching passion of introverts, we would have never seen the theory of gravity, The Cat in the Hat, or Google.

Despite all the hidden gifts that our introverts hold, it can be difficult for them to be heard in a society that prizes bold expression over thoughtful contemplation and Honey Boo Boo over Harriet the Spy.

“Since our culture values the outgoing, parenting and advocating for the introverted child can be challenging,” says Markway. “For example, the quiet child can be misunderstood. Because of a more reserved nature, the quiet child may be viewed as not putting forth complete effort in school or participating enough in class discussions. I have heard of other kids seeing the quiet child as stuck up or aloof for not talking more.”

At best, an introverted child is a bit misunderstood. At worst, his or her future can be affected by the perception of others: “I remember reading about a teacher who gave a quiet high-school student a poor recommendation for college,” Markway continues. “The teacher felt the girl would never make it as a doctor because she was so quiet. This view didn’t appear to match the reality of the girl’s abilities—she had a strong academic record, participated in numerous activities, including being an officer in student government, and was popular enough to be prom queen.”

For parents of introverts, this is our biggest fear: That we know how special our children are, but others don’t. “Parents want their children to be recognized, not for the parents’ sake, but so that the world will see who their children are,” Cain says.

The Extroverted Classroom

Amy and Keith Goetzman of Minneapolis, Minnesota—parents to innies Everett, nine, and Wyatt, seven—saw their boys flex their introverted muscles in both social and school settings from an early age.

“As Everett and Wyatt turned into toddlers and then preschoolers I became aware that like me they didn’t like big crowds, loud crowds, or people with aggressively outgoing personalities who got in their faces,” says Keith. “Sometimes an extrovert adult we met would try to ‘entertain’ them by being loud and goofy, offering a high five, or something like that—and they would greet these adults with a stone face, completely unimpressed. Sometimes the adult would be clearly put off, like, ‘What’s wrong with your kid, mister?'”

Wyatt chose not to speak a single word his first year of preschool; and every few weeks, Everett simply packs up and leaves his third-grade classroom to escape the masses. “He had a preschool experience that foretold this,” Amy says. “One day in the spring, we walked into the classroom, he stopped and watched the swarm of loud kids freaking out, then lifted his hand to wave, said, ‘Bye bye,’ and walked back out.”

Because schools are designed, in large part, for extroverted, team-based learning, finding environments that fit an introverted kid’s style isn’t always easy. After a few disappointments, the Goetzman family ended up happy at a Reggio Emilio-based preschool and a Montessori elementary school, which they feel allow more freedom for individualized and independent learning.

“At one conference, I asked the teacher if we should be concerned that Everett seemed to play alone a lot,” Amy remembers. “The teacher paused for a moment, then said, ‘It’s fine. Our society needs scientists and mathematicians and writers and philosophers too.’ They just got it. I nearly cried in gratitude.”

Today, more schools understand the need to nurture all kinds of kids—both introverts and extroverts—and are experimenting with innovative tools to do so. Many campuses, for example, respect that some students need downtime to bring balance to their busy days, and they alternate interactive sessions with quiet periods. This kind of scheduling is supported by a 2002 study out of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, which showed that introverted adults were more likely to get tired at work and greatly benefitted from taking breaks.

Other organizations have a warmer, fuzzier technique (literally): Groups like Paws for Reading, Puppy Dog Tales, and Tail Waggin’ Tutors bring trained therapy dogs into classrooms to sit with students, one-on-one, and help them practice their reading-aloud skills.

For many introverted kids, reading a story to a gentle, friendly dog takes away any apprehension, says Joyce Bristow, volunteer for Paws for Reading, a California-based program that uses dogs from pit bulls to Chihuahuas, mainly in Pre-K through third grade classes. “The dog doesn’t care if the reader gets a word wrong—it’s nonjudgmental. The program does amazing things for kids’ confidence.”

Tail Waggin’ Tutors, a national program, has seen similarly positive results. “We’ve had many success stories over the years,” says second-grade teacher Jennifer Paley of Van Corlaer Elementary School in Schenectady, New York. Paley notes one girl who was especially affected: “She had never spoken in school—to friends or teachers. On her first day with a dachshund named Ruby, she read beautifully and fluently. For her, Ruby was able to break through, allowing her voice to be heard. That’s the power of this program.”

In a different approach, technology is also helping introverts flourish. Social media can be a powerful platform where introverts shine, and a recent study from Australian academics Michael Cowling of Central Queensland University and Jeremy Novak of the South Cross Business School shows that Twitter can encourage hesitant students to participate in class. When lecturing teachers used Twitter as a ticker bar at the bottom of their PowerPoint presentation, for example, reticent students were more likely to ask questions. Though Cowling and Novak don’t foresee tweets replacing hand-raising, it’s interesting to imagine what the future middle school, high school, or college classroom might look like.

Despite movement toward more embracive education, some teachers are adamant that all students learn to speak in class, loud and proud, whether they’re shy, an introvert, or an extrovert. And for some good reasons. Jessica Lahey, a middle school teacher at Crossroads Academy in Lyme, New Hampshire, and author of a forthcoming book based on her Atlantic article “Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail,” grades her students on both written work and verbal participation—a skill she believes is vital to their future success.

“Part of my job is to teach my students how to persuade, how to argue for their own opinions and points of view,” she says. “We live in a demanding world, a world in which kids—and adults—have to speak up from time to time. I want my students to feel comfortable speaking up and demanding the rights and respect they deserve.”

A Quiet Lesson

Even though we live in a loud world, there are simple strategies to help our young introverts feel more at ease while remaining true to their quiet sensibilities.

Susan Cain rebuts Lahey’s more stringent approach, advocating that introverts can have successful schooldays without being pushed too far out of their comfort zones. She suggests that teachers wait five or ten seconds after asking a question before calling on students, giving all the kids a chance to think about how they might answer. Teachers can also create supportive, small groups for students who are wary of talking in front of a larger audience.

We, as parents, don’t need to change our kids’ personalities (and we wouldn’t want to). We can, however, give them a few pointers to help better negotiate an extroverted society. Remind young intoverts to smile and look others in the eye, Cain offers. Mention that when joining a large group of kids, it’s helpful to find the friendliest-looking child and approach him or her first. Praise them for trying new things. And model outgoing behavior, perhaps by striking up a conversation with another parent at the playground or by inviting friends over on a regular basis.

At home, parents can help innies thrive by establishing household routines that make it a secure, warmly predictable place to be. Establish relaxed, unrushed mealtimes, since introverts can be slow eaters, and keep healthy snacks around if you have a “grazer.” Remember, also, that although introverted kids like to swordfight with their siblings and play games with their parents, they also benefit from a quiet place of their own where they can refuel, whether it’s a bedroom, a clubhouse, or a quiet corner of the family room. (Think of it as a charging station. We replace a million batteries in our kids’ remote control cars and electronic gadgets—why not in them, too?)

Above all, parents can support introverted kids by appreciating their unique contributions and respecting what interests them—and what doesn’t. “Reassure your child that they can be excited about different things, and that’s OK,” Cain says.

But, as empathetic as you might be, don’t assume that your son or daughter can’t join with his more extroverted friends in basketball games, school plays, and choir concerts. “There might be introverts who are reluctant to participate, but then they enjoy it. Deciding whether to push them or not is really more of an art than a science,” says Cain. Be ready to help them slowly ease into a role that may feel uncomfortable at first.

“If you decide to push,” Cain says, “just make sure your kids have a longer runway before they take off and fly.”

When Abe finished that first day of kindergarten a year ago, I sat with him on our couch, shared a bowl of pistachios and pretzels, and gently nudged him to tell me how it went, so curious—and a touch apprehensive—to hear what he thought of his new world.

With some prompting, he told me the details of his day: what animals lived in the science room (a lizard, rat, and chinchilla!), what he ate out of his lunchbox (none of the carrots!), and the size of the toilet in his class’s bathroom (tiny!). He cheerily showed me his new folder, which would hold his homework, and a story that he had started writing about a kangaroo who decides to go on an adventure. I gave him a proud hug, and he leaned in for a rhinoceros kiss.

“And how was the bus ride this morning?” I asked, “It looked like fun. Did you feel happy, excited, scared…?”

“Oh, no, Mama,” he assured me. “I wasn’t scared once. Not the whole day.”

This matter-of-fact pronouncement surprised me, and made me realize that I had a long way to go to understand introverted children, including my own. I was still learning that they could be self-confident, if quiet. That they aren’t necessarily terrified of a classroom of kids, overwhelmed by schoolwork, or defeated by a busy afternoon (though they will appreciate some peace when they get home). I was still figuring out how important it is for introverts to rest and rejuvenate, and how many problems this can solve or avoid.

It takes time to learn all of an introvert’s secret gifts—there are lots of them to discover. Luckily, we have our kids to teach us.

Margret Aldrich is a writer and editor living in Minneapolis in a household that is three-quarters introverted. Her four-year-old son, Asher, is an unapologetic extrovert and the unofficial spokesperson for the family. She’d like to thank the parents who shared stories about their rock-star introverts and Jane Campbell, the kind and insightful kindergarten teacher who helped make Abe’s first year of school a happy success.

Brain, Child (Fall 2013)

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He Gets It From Me

He Gets It From Me

By Elizabeth Maria Naranjo

Gabriel at DisneylandWe were hiking down a dusty mountain trail, scattered with loose pebbles, when I felt my son tense. His little hand, folded into mine, tightened, and I thought he was about to slip. Then I heard approaching footsteps.

The path was narrow, so I pulled Gabriel closer to me to let the man pass. But as most people do, the man stopped at the sight of my four-year-old son. Gabriel is a solemn-looking boy with wide dark eyes, thick lashes, and a head full of brown curls that glint gold in the sun. He’d tucked his chin and was staring at the ground.

“Look at this big boy, on top of the world,” the man said. “Did you take your mommy all the way up the trail?”

After a moment of awkward silence, I answered. “We made it all the way up there, didn’t we, Gabe?”

Gabriel muttered something, and I gave the man an apologetic look. “It’s been a long morning,” I explained, and he nodded.

“It sure is hot,” he agreed. “Well, have a good day. Take care of your mommy, Gabe.” He stepped around us and walked away.

The footsteps faded. A breeze swept the path and then quieted. Gabriel, still looking at the ground, mumbled the line that sank my heart.

“I’m not good at talking to people.”

I kneeled and pulled his rigid body toward me, wrapping him in my arms. I hated myself for who I was. “Gabriel,” I whispered. “It’s okay, honey. Mommy’s not good at talking to people, either.”

For years I harbored this secret fear: that Gabriel was going to be like me. He was sensitive to criticism, hated family parties, and braced himself when opening presents, preparing for the exclamations. At 2 ½ he spoke about fifty words and I had him screened. “Not a thing wrong with him,” the speech therapist said. “He has all his sounds. Guess he’s just the quiet type.”

I knew what it was like, being the quiet type. A snapshot of a Girl Scout’s meeting when I was nine sums it up perfectly; a cluster of laughing girls at one table and me sitting alone at another, looking miserable. I treasured my friends, but kept their number to two or three at most. In school, I enjoyed giving scripted presentations, but got tongue-tied (and still do) when forced to make small talk. Lulls in conversation in person or on the phone are anguish, and I usually try to prattle through them, assuming the silence is my fault and I bear the burden of filling it. Later, I cringe at the memories of my nervous chatter. When email and texting became accepted methods of conversation, I embraced them with relief. I love words, I just need time to shape them, arrange them, and get them right. “Shy” never seemed an adequate description for my shortcomings, so I settled for “different” and went about life feeling inferior to more talkative, outgoing types.

But there was no way in hell I would settle for my son feeling inferior. So when his behaviors began to reflect mine, I refused to accept it, convincing myself he was going through a phase that he’d outgrow like a pair of pajamas. I scolded him for his rudeness when he failed to answer questions from well-meaning strangers.

“Can’t you at least say, ‘Hi’?”

“An adult is talking to you, Gabriel.”

I would speak for him, excusing his behavior and slapping it with a label. “Sorry. He’s just kind of shy.”

He needs time, that’s all, I thought. With encouragement, he’ll learn to be more outgoing. But everything changed that day on the mountain. Because my job as a parent should be teaching my children to love themselves, and my son’s declaration revealed that he was beginning to think something was wrong with him.

That night, I stayed with Gabriel long after his eyes fluttered closed. Stroking his cheek, I recalled his first two years, how now matter what we had gone through on any given day, I would nurse him to sleep, softly humming a path to his dreams. He was no less fragile now, no less in need of acceptance and unconditional love. So why did I insist on rejecting this part of him? How much damage had I inflicted conveying a message that a piece of him was defective? I winced, hearing myself say, “I’m sorry. My son is shy.” What did he hear when I said that? “I’m sorry. There’s something wrong with my son.”

Gabriel squeezed his fist and his fingers slowly bloomed open. I touched his palm and his warm hand closed around mine. I vowed that whatever characteristics shaped his heart, I would not apologize for them. I would defend them. What I considered flaws, in me, would become treasured qualities in Gabriel. And I would make sure he saw them that way.

I slipped out of bed and turned on the computer. In the search bar, I strung together words that described him. “Creative, quiet, cautious, intense, perfectionist.” Flashing back at me, from dozens of websites and scholarly articles and blogs, was the term “introvert.” I clicked from one site to the next, fascinated, devouring descriptions of people just like my son, just like me. Descriptions that placed value on our personality traits and dispelled common myths associated with them: standoffish, antisocial, shy. I nodded as I read how most introverts prefer a few close friends over dozens of acquaintances, enjoy meaningful conversation but are inept at small talk, and often have an affinity for creative arts. How we can become insecure, not because it’s inherent in our personalities, but because we’re frequently pressured into becoming something we’re not. Everything negative became a positive: not bad at talking, but good at listening; not withdrawn, but thoughtful; not antisocial, but private, and respectful of others’ privacy.

In the following weeks, I shifted my expectations and began putting my son’s needs first. Approaching the grocery check-out line, I prepared Gabriel for the cashier’s inevitable cheerful questions.

“You don’t have to talk to her, if you don’t want,” I whispered, kissing his cheek. “A smile is fine.”

At family get-togethers, I drove Gabriel in a separate car, so we could leave after an hour or two while my husband and daughter enjoyed the rest of the party. And I didn’t force my son to dole out hugs.

At home, we all worked hard on giving Gabriel extra time to speak his two cents. In the past, we had the tendency to finish his thoughts for him, blurting out the words we assumed he was thinking. With additional time, he spoke them fine on his own, and often surprised us with his astute observations and playful sense of humor.

I could see the difference right away; Gabriel was more relaxed. He had fewer meltdowns. And with my vision cleared, it was easier to appreciate what makes him special: his tender heart, creative mind, the way he works so hard to hold his crayon exactly right. I felt lucky, knowing that few would really know him well; his trust and love would have to be earned, and when he crawls into my lap and rests his head on my chest, I know I’m one of the privileged few.

“Elizabeth, we think Gabriel could benefit from another year in preschool.” The teacher smiled at me like this was no big deal. “He’s a May birthday; he’ll barely be five when the school year starts. It’s perfectly acceptable to hold off until he’s six.”

I stared down at the progress report, confused. “But, you said he’s doing great, knows all his letters, colors, counts to twenty . . .”

“It’s not that. Academically, he’s fine. But, well, confidence is the best gift you can give to your child.”

“You think Gabriel has a confidence problem?” I was astonished to hear this. I pictured him kicking a ball around the crowded park, surrounded by bigger kids; kneeling over a 2 x 4, easily tightening a screw; climbing the jungle gym and reaching down to help the child below him.

“He still freezes up when I call on him in circle time. He covers his face and struggles with his words.”

I smiled. “Oh. You mean he’s not comfortable speaking in group.”

“It’s a skill he’ll have to build up in preparation for kindergarten.”

In my mind I saw Gabriel running up to the crossing guard at his sister’s school, a woman he saw every day, bursting with news of his latest project. He talked loud and fast until another child and her parent approached, and then his voice trailed away.

“Gabriel just doesn’t like a lot of attention,” I said. “He’s fine talking one-on-one with people he knows. But he hates the spotlight, and he probably always will. When you call on him and everyone’s watching and waiting for him to say the right thing—he is so far out of his comfort zone.”

She stared, and I rushed to fill the silence. “You know what? I think it’s kind of cool. Not everybody loves the spotlight, right? Maybe it’s a good thing.”

She glanced at the progress report, and then shrugged. “Well, it’s up to you, of course. He’s a smart kid; he certainly won’t have a problem keeping up. But one more year might help him build his confidence.”

“My son has plenty of confidence,” I said. “He’s just an introvert. And holding him back won’t make a difference, because he’s not going to change.” I spoke the next words without regret or apology; in fact, I spoke them with a touch of pride. “I know he’s not going to change,” I said, “because I never did. He gets it from me.”

Elizabeth lives in Tempe, Arizona with her husband Alex, son Gabriel (6) and daughter Abigail (11). Links to Elizabeth’s fictions and creative nonfiction can be found on her website

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