My two-year-old recently started her first tumbling class. Since she tends to be on the shy side, her first class was a little, shall we say, “scream-y.” By the second, she was rolling and jumping with the rest of the kids.
“That’s great,” one acquaintance said to me. “We’ll fix that little introvert yet!”
Wait - wah? Why is being an introvert something that needs to be “fixed?”
KT has so many beautiful qualities, and her shyness just happens to be one of them. Her love of adventure sends her head first down the tallest of slides – but not if a line of kids is swarming the ladder. She’ll love you unconditionally with a heart as big as Texas and hugs as tight as Spanx – if you give her 10 minutes to warm up first.
No, my kid doesn’t need to be fixed. What is important is helping her find confidence as an introvert. And that’s a hard one because it makes me change my whole way of thinking for the past 34 years.
It’s no secret the world values extroverts. So for an introvert like me, as I grew older, I felt my words weren’t important unless they were shouted through a bullhorn. If I couldn’t maneuver my way into a group of people, I didn’t belong. Other introverts thrive on being reserved; for me, it did a number on my self-esteem.
In any social situation, my immediate thought is how people will judge what I look like and what I say – or don’t say - (I totally blame you, all three Heathers from Heathers. And you too, Blair Warner). Before a networking event, I’ll sit in my car and pray to God to give me the confidence to get through it, which feels like an incredibly selfish and ridiculous prayer. Until I get through the door and see confidence manifest itself in the form of an open bar for which I give God mad props.
I can’t pass the same poor esteem issues on to my kids, so I’ve had to completely change how I act and what I say when they’re in the room. When my five-year-old, for instance, says, “You look nice today, Mommy,” my initial reaction would be to divert my eyes and mutter, “I look fat/My hair’s all frizzy/This dress looks horrible.” Instead, I look her in the eye and say, “Thank you, MJ. That is kind of you to say.” If KT and I are in a new setting or meeting new people, I know she’s looking at me for guidance. Although it takes every bit of my strength, I’ll approach another mom and her child to – OMG! OMG! – make small talk and hopefully introduce KT to a new friend.
But most of all, in trying to help build their esteem, I’ve had to force myself not to coddle them. There are few things an introvert hates worse than failing in front of others, so in my mind, I needed to be my kids’ ever annoying cheerleader. However, a great article from the Washington Post this past week examined how empty, unearned praise can actually be detrimental to a child’s academic development and that instead, persistence and resilience are key tools for building self-esteem. Our mantra recently has become, “Shake it off and try again,” and by golly, unlike me, those kids jump up after they fall.
One new resource for introverts launching this week is the book, QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. According to her site, QUIET examines how the world has undervalued introverts, and how we, as introverts, can use our innate qualities not only to empower ourselves, but our children as well. In doing so, Cain will help give a voice to the 25% of us who are introverts - the ones who abhor small talk about the weather. Who spend parties at the bar instead of on top of it. Who can lead a company without shouting, “HEY! I’M LEADING THE COMPANY!”
KT has all the qualities of an introvert – she thrives on close connections, she likes her personal space, she thinks before she proceeds, she tends to be quiet (in public – at home she screams like she’s at a U.K. soccer match) - all wonderful traits that make her unique. As parents, it’s up to us to help her use those traits to her benefit, shaping her into the incredible, intelligent – and probably always introverted – woman I hope she will become.
Now we just need to work on her mom.
By Nicole Plegge, Lifestyle Blogger for SmartParenting