Supporting a Young Introvert

If you know me, you know I was an extrovert growing up. I loved to be around people, I got my energy from engaging with friends and strangers alike. I genuinely enjoyed turning random strangers into friends (still do). Around the time I had T, some of that shifted. I found myself craving time at home alone, I started to need "recharge" moments in a very different way than I did in the past. Still, I expected I'd have a little extrovert on my hands once T was old enough to start to show some of those personality traits.

Imagine my surprise over the course of the past few months as I've noticed that--like her parents--T needs some special time each day on her own to recharge her batteries. I noticed a few other traits that corresponded with a more introverted personality, and I was at a loss when it came to supporting her. She's three, not thirty, so I had no frame of reference for the ways a young introvert can reset themselves after their day.

I decided to have a sit-down and talk to her about what she liked to do by herself. It sounds silly, but she actually verbalized some very great ideas that I wouldn't have considered. I learned three really important steps to supporting a young introvert so that they can re-set, re-charge, and re-engage with the world:

1. Ask and Listen.
Even at three, T knew many of the things that would let her re-energize. It took some work to pull them out of her, but she's a very self-aware child. She knew she liked to build with her legos in her room, that she wanted "her rug" down (this rug) so she could build cities where she could drive her toy cars, she liked to have music on during that time, she wanted her stuffed animals to be close by, and she absolutely wanted a baby gate in front of the door so that she was blocked off from the rest of the house. That was the big one--she wanted to have that separation (no door closed, that was too much, in her mind) so that she wouldn't be disturbed.

2. Observe and Respect.
Young introverts don't always have the self-awareness to recognize/verbalize when they're in need of a "me moment," so it's up to us as parents to note the nonverbal cues our kids give us when they need to get away from the world. I noticed that T would stare off into space, would begin to get irritable over things that wouldn't normally upset her, would beg to leave a place she normally loved. I started getting her OUT of those situations and into our car or to her room so she doesn't hit a state of overwhelm that results in a meltdown.

3. Provide a Safe Space (Anywhere)
This was the hardest for me to grasp. I thought that, for T to wind down, she had to be in her room with her music on and her favorite toys out. However, if we were in a public place, or if she was simply bored with that method of re-charging, she couldn't do it. It was then that I went back to observing what seemed to help her. I noted some specific things:

  • Screen time had the opposite effect from what I expected. I thought that an episode or two of Daniel Tiger might give her the time she needed to re-charge. I was really, really wrong. TV shows didn't give her the chance to be introspective; they kept her mentally and visually engaged, which completely ruined the purpose behind the screen time (in this case). She always came away from screen time in a terrible mood (when I used it to give her a "me moment.").
  • Audio did not upset her the way the visual stimulus of screen time seemed to. Learning that she loved HEARING stories was huge, especially when we were out and about and couldn't necessarily get her to her normal Quiet Space. I found some podcasts that made a huge difference for her: Disney StoryCentral Podcast, and Stories Podcast. She begs for these podcasts, especially on the drive home from school, where she's most likely to hit the "wall." 
  • She doesn't need to shut herself into her room to get the feeling of disconnecting. I bought a set of over-the-ear headphones from the Target Dollar Spot and hooked them up to my old (old old old) iPad, which is only good for playing music or podcasts these days. I pop on a podcast, add a coloring book and a few crayons, and she can get the solitude she craves even if we're not able to make it to her Quiet Space. 
Do you have an introverted little one? How do you support them in recharging so that they're feeling their best?


Lindsay Sweeting was in the world of Marketing and Publicity in her previous life. These days you're more likely to see her running after her toddler than running a meeting, but she does her best to find time to create new recipes, come up with fun activities for her daughter, and write about the craziness that is life in the Sweeting house.

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