Parents, have you ever experienced the following thoughts: I wonder if my daughter is spending too much time in her bedroom, should I be worried? I am concerned because my son is constantly engaged in some sort of activity and is unable to just sit and be by himself. These concerns reveal a fear that a child may be experiencing developmental or emotional issues. Rather than seeing excessive time spent in one’s room or the inability to be alone as automatic cause for concern, I ask you to consider that these behaviors may stem from a child’s personality.
Understanding the personality traits of extroversion and introversion may provide clarity on concerns and situations. These specific traits are about how people experience their world and how they are best able to recharge their emotional batteries. Thankfully, God did not create everyone the same. Rather, he created various personality traits in order for his creation to glorify him with diversity and show himself to the world in countless amazing ways. In hopes of providing a useful parenting resource, this article will define the traits of extroversion and introversion and then will apply this information as it relates to one’s own personality and parenting style.
Society today often confuses extroversion with being a kind, fun, and outgoing group of people. As a result of this stereotype, many feel that extroversion can be seen as a “healthy” trait that one should seek to acquire. While social skill may give an accurate description of some extroverts, it fails to address the core issues. Introverts and extroverts alike can be socially skilled and charismatic. Whether or not someone "likes people" is not the difference between extroversion and introversion.
The difference is where people go to re-energize and recharge their emotional fuel tanks. Extroverts gather energy from being with others, Introverts spend energy into being with others.
So putting aside these charismatic assumptions and stereotypes, here is what you need to know about the extroverted child:
These social aspects provide a helpful direction toward figuring out what makes this particular child thrive--providing structure and social interaction in appropriate amounts is a gift for this child.
On the other hand, the word “introversion” has often been mis-identified with social timidity. The stereotype is that introverts are quiet, withdrawn individuals with limited social skills who avoid public interactions at all cost. More dramatically, it may be that introverts are seen as socially awkward or social outcasts. Putting aside these misconceptions, let’s unravel the truth about introverts. Again, social charisma is not the difference between extroversion and introversion. Many introverts are great with people, and are even great public speakers, but then need time alone to recover.
Protecting appropriate amounts of free time for self-engagement (being in their own head) is a way for introverts to flourish in their personalities.
To varying degrees, one of these personality traits is present within all individuals of all ages. One person may be clearly one or the other, others are more of a mix. I also want to make clear the fact that no trait is better than the other. There is no right or wrong way to approach life as it relates to extroversion and introversion. And it may change depending on time and circumstance. If your work demands much isolation, for example, even an introvert may need some social time to re-balance.
Parents have a key opportunity to help their children thrive by both knowing themselves and knowing their children. Parents should identify where on the spectrum of extroversion and introversion they fall and note how different each of their children may be. It may be tempting to parent your child out of your personal preferences and experiences as an extrovert/introvert. However, doing so will not benefit your child insofar as their needs are not your needs--one approach to what "re-charging" looks like does not fit all. Be a learner of your child; allow them to flourish in their own unique personality. The beauty of this “flourishing” can be seen, for example, in Christian men and women who have owned their personality traits and have become great chaplains (more extroverted) and great writers (more introverted). Everyone has a role to perform in the body of Christ and our personality traits can uniquely qualify us for certain ones.
Still have concerns? Having a healthy balance between alone-time and people-time seems to be the best solution. The Bible speaks to this balance by providing examples--Jesus performed miracles with large crowds of people, he had fellowship with a small gathering of close friends, and he went off alone to pray. Jesus was intentional to spend time alone during the busy years of his ministry. He also did not shy away from breaking bread with hundreds of people. So, encourage your introverted child to participate in family time, recognizing that, although your child may enjoy time with family, it can also be a draining experience. Help your extroverted child in developing the necessary skills he will need to spend time alone.
God has made us all different. Ask yourself these questions. Who are the extroverts in my family? Who are the introverts? How do these personality traits impact my family’s dynamics and how each member might flourish? Can some of my previous areas of concern be answered by taking my child’s personality trait into consideration? Taking a moment to recognize how God has uniquely shaped you and how he has uniquely created your son or daughter will equip you to help them flourish.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Deb Koster