Just recently I attended a seminar about personality type. It was a fascinating and thought-provoking course and made me think about how much in education is geared towards the extrovert. Gone are the days where children are expected to sit silently, taking instruction from their teacher, working on their own from a textbook or copying from the blackboard. Today's classroom is a noisy place, even reading can no longer be relied upon as a quiet endeavour. If you were to take a tour around a primary school now you would see paired reading, group reading, interactive reading activities around the smartboard and, of course, the dreaded reading aloud. I'm not saying that I'd like to go back to a time where children were terrified into silent obedience but I do feel that for the introverted child the world of school must be a place with no refuge or break from extroverted expectation; a world therefore of stress and anxiety. Children are sat facing each other in groups, teachers are trained to question, challenge, instigate, all at a pace. There is little time for quiet reflection instead children must put themselves forward, think on their feet, adapt, contribute, discuss, debate, all as part of a team where the more serious individual is passed over in favour of the entertaining one.
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The introverted child is often labelled with a whole range of negative adjectives: awkward, lacking social skills, unassertive, passive, aloof, not a team player, timid...I could go on. There is a basic misunderstanding about the nature of the introvert: that they are shy and anti-social when in fact it is simply a difference in energy. An introvert can be sociable; they can be noisy, they may well enjoy a party, but this cannot be sustained for long. An extrovert gains energy from being around other people; without social interaction they become fatigued, whereas for an introvert this is draining and they need time alone to recharge. They have a rich inner reserve that they need time to draw from and then top up again. In a perfect world there would be a balance between types but true introverted personalities are outnumbered; for every introvert there are three extroverts.
With this in mind it's not surprising that the introverted child is so often overlooked in the classroom with few opportunities to show their strengths. Susan Cain, the author of the bestselling book 'Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking' makes the assertion that introversion is 'not something to be cured'. If you've not come across her book then I'd recommend it. It's a startling read and does much to de-bug those personality myths that have become so ingrained in our extroverted culture. She champions the introvert and I think her Quiet Manifesto should be enshrined in every teacher's classroom and for that matter every workplace. If you find yourself nodding in quiet agreement then it's probably because you have a little introvert in your family or recognise this preference in yourself. Although introvert-extrovert is a spectrum, I can say with some certainty that I have two children who are at opposite ends! Consequently parenting is a fine balance especially when you find yourself quite the opposite from your partner as well! Here are my key strategies for nurturing your quiet child:
- Use positive adjectives: let your child know that it's more than alright to be 'thoughtful', 'reserved', 'quiet', 'focused', 'inquiring', 'investigative', 'a good listener'. Share their strengths with teachers, let them know that they like to have time to think before speaking, that they need to observe before doing, evaluate what they've read before responding, express their thoughts in a variety of ways other than just verbally,
- Provide a sheltered place: in your home a cosy nook that a child can retire to - a little space to call their own. At social events find acceptable ways to take a break from too much company and filter out noise i.e. earphones for music, a book under the table, a short walk or task that gives time out for five minutes.
- Nurture the difference: reject over-zealous efforts from others to 'bring them out of their shell', to join more groups and societies, make more friends. Instead encourage friendships with one or two like-minded children or those happy enough to play alongside rather than always with and who are not offended when your child wants to spend time alone.
|(image credit: psychologytoday.com)|
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