- Kenton E. Biffert
An Extroverted Dad raising an Introverted Son
Last year I was challenged in my parenting by the book, Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking, by Susan Cain. Susan Cain explained, quite well, how our
North American society is built upon extrovertism. We see this in the evangelical protestant movement where folk who are extroverts thrive. I always wondered why I thrived in such an environment (many years ago) and why my sister did not. It was simply because I was an extrovert and she the opposite.
This past summer I took some of the parenting notes from this Quiet book and put them into action. The basic principle is this: introverts are far more sensitive to external stimuli than extroverts. We see this from the time they're infants. For example: if you lay a baby on its back and move your hands above her face and make noises and she doesn't respond a whole lot - you have an extroverted child. Babies that get irritated with all the hand movements and noise are far more sensitive to the external stimuli and will grow up (most likely) to be introverts.
How does this affect my parenting?
Introverts don't do well when you throw them into the deep end and tell them to swim. The stimulation is too much.
Here are two examples I've lived through with my son:
1) We took the kids last spring to St. Benedict's Farm to see the newly born lambs. We walked into the barn and all my children ran to touch a lamb, hold one and view all the sheep. The barn was loud with baaing, smelled richly of animal and there were a lot of sheep. All my kids ran in, but one. My one son burst into tears and began to scream hysterically. What in the world was happening!! I grabbed him and rushed him outside. Normally, I would've been more like "Buck it buddy! It's just sheep. You'll be fine." BUT, having just read this book, I knew what was happening. So, we took a step back. We entered the barn after talking about he was going to encounter. We entered slowly and I held his hand. Then, after a bit he was fine.
2) Our goal, of course, is to have our children swimming well. When we lived on a farm a few years back, my son was scared spittless of getting into the cold water to swim, even with a life jacket on. Grabbing him and taking him into the water with me wasn't working. So, we did it at a slower pace. Each day we went to the pool and discussed how he could be one step braver than the day before. This could be simply going into the water 3x or sitting on the second stair, or holding onto the side and so forth. Weeks later, he was floating in a life jacket by himself. The following summer he was jumping off of docks.
The key, I believe, is two fold when parenting an introverted child. First, we must realize that they are very sensitive to the external stimulation around them. Second, we can't let them live in fear of those sensations. Every night before bed we pray for courage and every time we encounter a new situation that raises fear, we work together to conquer it.
My son, whom I love in his introvertism, will not grow up afraid to speak to people, afraid to try new things and so forth. Simply, because that is not an option. But, we will break fears together - one step at a time.