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015: How to support your introverted child
4th December 2016 • Your Parenting Mojo - Respectful, research-based parenting ideas to help kids thrive • Jen Lumanlan
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Do you think your child may be introverted?  Or are you not sure how to tell?  Around one in three people are introverted so if you have two or three children, chances are one of them is introverted.  While Western – and particularly American – society tends to favor extroverts, being an introvert isn’t something we can – or should – cure.  It’s a personality trait, not a flaw. Join me as we walk through a topic near and dear to my heart, and learn the difference between introversion and shyness, and how to support your introverted child – no matter whether you yourself are introverted or extroverted.   References Aron, E.N. (1996). Are you highly sensitive? Retrieved from:
Belsky, J., Jonassaint, C., Pluess, M., Stanton, M., Brummett, B., & Williams, R. (2009). Vulnerability genes or plasticity genes? Molecular Psychiatry 14, 746-754. DOI: 10.1038/mp.2009.44
Cain, S. (2013). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Broadway.
Dobbs, D. (2009). The science of success. The Atlantic. Retrieved from:
Kagan, J., & Snidman, N. (2004). The long shadow of temperament. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
Keogh, B.K. (1986). Temperament and schooling: Meaning of “Goodness of Fit”? In J.V. Lerner and R.M. Lerner (Eds). Temperament and social interaction in infancy and children. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
Laney, M.O. (2002).  The introvert advantage: How to thrive in an extrovert world. New York: Workman.
Markway, B.G., & Markway, G.P. (2005). Nurturing the shy child: Practical help for raising confident ans socially skilled kids and teens. New York: St. Martin’s.
McCrae, R.R., & Terracciano, A. (2006). National character and personality. Current Directions in Psychological Science 15(4), 156-161.
Pluess, M., & Belsky, J. (2009). Differential susceptibility to rearing experience: The case of childcare. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 50(4), 396-404. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2008.01992.x
Pluess, M., & Belsky, J. (2010). Differential susceptibility to parenting and quality child care. Developmental Psychology 46(2), 379-390. DOI: 10.1037/a0015203 (a version of Eysenck’s Personality Inventory). Retrieved from:
Swallow, W.K. (2000). The shy child: Helping children triumph over shyness. New York: Warner.
Swann, W.B. & Rentfrow, P.J. (2001). Blirtatiousness: Cognitive, behavioral, and physiological consequences of rapid responding. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 81(6), 1160-1175. DOI: 10.1037//0022-35I4.81.6.1160
Thomas, A., & Chess, S. (1977). Temperament and development. New York: Brunner/Mazel.  
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Transcript Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast.  Before we get started today I’d like to take a few minutes to chat with you about the podcast.  Firstly, I’d like to thank you so much for listening to the show.  I’ve been really honored over the last few weeks since I started the show to hear from so many of you about how much the show is helping you in your parenting.  Because at the end of the day, I’m getting a masters degree in Psychology focusing on child development to be a better parent myself, and to help you be better parents as well.  There’s just too much good information out there about how this whole parenting thing works for us to kind of bumble along and not know any better.  And I put myself in the same boat as you here; I’m literally learning this stuff with you as I go.  I don’t always handle things in the best way but when I learn better I do better, and I forgive myself for having done things “the old way.”  I’m growing and becoming a better parent because of what I’m learning with you, and I’m honored that those of you who have left me reviews on iTunes and have written to me and told me how much the show is helping you are finding it useful too.  So I have a four (yes, four!) specific favors to ask of you.  Firstly, if you enjoy this episode, and especially if you’ve enjoyed several episodes, please subscribe to the show so you don’t miss an episode.  Because I’m learning in the same way that you are we often build one episode on top of another.  I regularly refer back to the episode on scaffolding, for example, and if you’ve already listened to that one then you’ll be able to follow right along as I describe how to scaffold behavior in a certain situation in the episode related to tantrums.  You can subscribe on iTunes or if you go to you get a little freebie for signing up – a list of seven relationship-based  strategies that I use to support my daughter’s development – and also make parenting just a little bit easier on me.  Secondly, while you’re over on iTunes, I’d love it if you would leave a rating and write a review of the show.  It doesn’t have to be super long; just decide how many stars you think it’s worth (five is always a good numberJ) and jot down a couple of lines about what you think about the show.  Shows that have more ratings and reviews appear higher in the iTunes listings, which will encourage more people to listen, which makes me happy.   Thirdly, if you know of other parents who could benefit from learning what we’re learning, please let them know about the show.  Send them a link in an email or put it up on your Facebook or twitter feed (if you’re on twitter you can find me at A kid is for life).  And finally, I really do love hearing from listeners, especially if you have an idea for a topic for the show.  If you do, then please drop me a line at and if there’s enough scientific research available on the topic then I’ll do an episode just for you.  Also drop me a line if you have any other feedback for me or would just like to chat. Alright, on to today’s topic, which is called “how to support your introverted or shy toddler.”  Unlike the episode I did recently on tantrums, which was mainly for you guys since we haven’t struggled with them too much, this episode is very personal to me.  I have a triple whammy of personality characteristics that are socially undesirable (in the U.S. at least) – I’m an introvert, I’m shy, and I’m also a highly sensitive person (and I never even knew the last one was a “thing” until a few weeks ago). Since my daughter is only two and is in the stage where children tend to play alongside each other rather than *with* each other it can be a bit difficult to tell which personality traits are really hers and which are just a function of her current stage of development.  But I’m starting to see some signs of introversion and shyness, so I wanted to get a handle on the research not so much so I can diagnose her, but more so I know what to watch for and how I can support her, because American culture is very much geared toward the success of extroverts.  Somewhere between a third and half of the population in this country may be introverted so if you have two or three children then chances are one of them is introverted. Listen on to hear more about how introversion and shyness are not the same thing, and what the research says about how we can support our introverted and shy children. I got the idea for this episode after I read the book “Quiet” by Susan Cain.  I’ve known I’m an introvert for a long time – I took classes in Psychology after finishing high school in England and we took Eysenck’s personality inventory – there’s a link to a free online version you can take yourself in the references for this episode – and I was basically off-the-charts introverted.  So I’d heard of the book “Quiet” when it was published in 2012 but didn’t pay it much attention because I figured I didn’t need to be diagnosed – I already knew I was introverted.  But someone recommended it to me as an example of a book that makes scientific research very accessible to a non-scientific audience, so I read it from that perspective – and I ended up learning a lot about myself in the process. The first point that I want to make is a very important one, and that is that introversion and shyness are not the same thing.  Because it is so important and kind of non-intuitive, I’m going to say it again – introversion and shyness are not the same thing.  The basic meaning of an introvert is that it’s a person who gets their energy from being in environments that provide low levels of stimulation, which often means being alone rather than being with other people, whereas extroverts find being in environments with high levels of stimulation, like when there are a lot of other people around, very energizing.  Introverts might have good social skills and can participate in parties and events but after a while they wish they were at home tucked up on the sofa with a cup of tea and a good book.  Susan Cain lists characteristics of introverts in the book.  Some of these are that they prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family.  They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation.  They tend to dislike conflict.  Many have a horror of small talk but enjoy deep discussions.  The part of this that caught my attention was that I hadn’t realized my introversion affected parts of how I deal with the world that aren’t directly related to going to parties.  While I often have five or six books on the go at once (virtually all of them child development books these days!), I do prefer to dig deeply into one.  And I work in consulting, where it’s common for someone to call a meeting and show you some powerpoint slides and get you to react to it immediately, whereas I would really prefer them to send the deck in advance so I can take notes and have some time to process before I give my thoughts. So what’s the difference between introversion and shyness?  The book “Quiet” says that while introversion is a preference for environments that aren’t overstimulating, shyness is a fear of social disapproval or humiliation.  Shyness is inherently painful, while introversion is not.  A lot of people get them confused because they overlap to some extent; I’d always thought that my shyness is part of my introversion.  But it’s possible to be a shy extrovert (like Barbara Streisand who has a massive stage presence and apparently awful stage fright), or a non-shy introvert (like Bill Gates, who prefers his own company but isn’t afraid of the disapproval or humiliation of others that is the hallmark of shyness).  And a key point is that while shyness and introversion are very different to the person experiencing them, to the outside world they look much the same.  A shy person may be afraid to talk to other people at a party while an introvert may just be overstimulated – but the other people at the party can’t tell which it is, and all they see is someone who isn’t interested in talking, and thus must not be very interesting themselves either.  Or maybe they’re just stuck up.  Or both.  What makes shyness “painful” and problematic is that it can get in the way of achieving things that we want to do.  I might wish I could go to a networking event to advance my career, but maybe I’m too afraid of what people there would think about me.  In that case, my shyness is getting in the way of something I want to achieve, especially if I’m looking for a new job. I was actually surprised that there is a decent amount of research available on introversion and shyness, and quite a bit of it is longitudinal which is even more surprising – it’s pretty unusual for researchers to follow children for any length of time because it makes a study so expensive.  It seems as though most of the research on both introversion and shyness in children eventually comes back to the work of two doctors named Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess, who worked out of the New York University Medical Center from the 1950s through the 1970s.  Their study is considered to be a classic assessment of the idea of temperament, which underlies many other personality traits like introversion and shyness.  We have to take their results with a bit of a grain of salt because while 141 children is quite a lot for one study it isn’t much compared to the population of children in the world, or a country, or even New York – and these children were drawn from 85 families, 78% of which were Jewish, the rest Protestant or Catholic, with 60% of the fathers and 40% of the mothers having both college and postgraduate degrees.  The researchers don’t say *why* their population was so homogenous but they did attempt to validate the findings using a sample of 85 low-income children in Puerto Rico some years later.  Thomas and Chess identified nine dimensions of temperament which they grouped into three major categories.  “Easy” children were characterized by having regular bodily functions like sleeping and bowel movements; they were adaptable, usually in a positive mood, and would approach rather than withdraw in a new situation.   The “difficult” child was described as having irregular bodily functions, not very adaptable, withdrawing rather than approaching in new situations, intense, and often irritable or fussy.  The third category was the “slow to warm up” child who seemed much like an easy child except that he would initially withdraw in response to a new situation and would be slow to adapt but would come around eventually.  About 35% of the children in the study didn’t fit into one of these patterns.  Of the remaining 65%, 40% were classified as “easy,” 10% were “difficult,” and 15% were “slow to warm up.” The famous psychologist Jerome Kagan moves the research one step further by doing some tests on 500 White infants (although he doesn’t say what religion they were) at age 4 months, 2 years, 4 years, 7 years, and 11 years of age, with the sample size dropping to 237 children by the time they were 11 years old.  The central thesis of the study was that in the test at four months, children who kicked their arms and legs around or cried when they were presented with unusual things to look at, hear, and smell did this because they had inherited a trait that made a certain part of their brains very excitable.  About 20% of the children did pump their arms and legs and cried, and these children were called “high-reactive.”  40% of the children showed the opposite pattern- minimal arm and leg movements and no crying – these were called “low-reactive.”  25% didn’t move around but did cry a lot and were called “distressed.”  10% moved around a lot but didn’t cry; these children were called “aroused.”  And the remaining 5% of children were difficult to classify.  The theory goes that children whose brains quickly become highly stimulated (which is indicated when they move around and cry) will seek out situations where they don’t get too much stimulation – in other words, they will become introverts.  And the children whose brains need more stimulation before they get to an optimal level of arousal become extroverts, because they need more stimulation, both social and non-social, to get to that optimal level.  Now I should note that Jerome Kagan is interested in the biological basis of temperament, and even he acknowledges that your genetic predisposition to prefer or avoid stimuli is not your destiny.  About 33% of the high and low-reactive children displayed the pattern of behavior they were “supposed to” as predicted by their infant temperament when they were interviewed at age 11, while 16% behaved in ways that were inconsistent with expectations – a ratio of 2-1, but much less than 100%.  The researchers noticed that the infants who had been high-reactive were mostly serious and didn’t smile at every one of the assessments from 4 months to 11 years.  More low reactives smiled and laughed  frequently at every age.  Many low-reactives, but few high-reactives, smiled and laughed within the first minute of entering the lab at 11 years of age, and smiling at 11 years was predicted by smiling at two years.  So if not all of the high-reactive children become introverts, what’s going on?  It’s called the moderating effect of the environment, and a lot of that is the moderating effect of parents. So how do these parents support introverted and shy children?  Regarding introversion, it’s really a matter of setting up your child’s life so he gets the amount of stimulation – both social and otherwise – that he needs.  There’s evidence that many introverts are also highly sensitive people – people who notice and perceive things more strongly than others do.  There are quizzes you can do to test this in yourself and your child as well – there’s a link to one in the references.  I had no idea I was a highly sensitive person until just a few weeks ago when my husband handed me one of those checklist articles from Buzzfeed or somewhere similar that described the characteristics.  I usually hate those things so I tried to make him take his phone back but he insisted I read it, and I was shocked to find that it basically described me.  I cut the tags out of my clothes because I can’t stand them itching me.  I always want him to turn the TV down.  I regularly notice continuity errors in films.  I notice manners.  I’m sensitive to criticism.  Now not all introverts are also highly sensitive, but when we talk about supporting an introvert we should also consider the possibility that she experiences things more acutely than you might as a parent, and thus if you think you’ve ratcheted down the stimulation enough then consider the possibility that it’s still too much for her. I think my two year-old may be an introvert because a lot of the time she seems to prefer staying home to going out or doing other activities.  Sometimes when we have music on she asks me to turn it down because she thinks it’s too loud, even though I don’t think it’s that loud (and I’m highly sensitive!).  So when I put music on I make sure not to put it on too loud.  And we don’t keep a busy schedule here – she does go to daycare while I’m at work, but on the weekends we do a lot of relaxing around the house.  We don’t rush from one class to the next; a busy day for us would be to go to another child’s birthday party *and* go grocery shopping on the same day.  I get my need for alone time in the weeks I work from home, while my husband gets his need for socialization by going to the office most days.  I do wonder whether my daughter is getting her need for alone time met during her time at daycare; the school does have a quiet nook where a child could pull curtains around himself and be alone for a bit but I’m guessing that the structure of the school day means that most of the time the children are engaged in some activity.  It’s something I plan to discuss with her teachers. I have to say that while the majority of the book “Quiet” was exhaustively referenced, the chapter on how to support an introverted child was





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