My son is very quiet and reserved. He hangs back to observe the other kids before joining in – and even then often chooses not to participate. He is easily embarrassed and tends to overthink things. Does this sound familiar to you? If so, you, like me, might have an introverted child who finds making friends difficult.
I don’t worry about my son as he is a great kid, very introspective and creative, and I’m confident he will find his way. And kids don’t need a large group of friends, right? We all tell our children it’s better to have just a few good ones. But truthfully, it’s heartbreaking for a parent to watch their child be excluded when you know they want to participate. It would not matter to me if it did not matter to my son, but it does.
I realize some children are loud and boisterous and some are not. The children who are not afraid to jump into an activity or conversation make friends more easily than the one who stands back. Fortunately, I’ve learned there are things a parent can do to help.
How to help
Understand that your child’s temperament is due to biology
Think your child can just “get over” hating being thrown into large groups? Think again. Introverts’ brains are actually “wired” differently than extroverts.Your child’s temperament is innate. You can nurture their temperament and slowly expose them to new situations, but you can’t change them and shouldn’t try.
Role play difficult situations
It may be helpful to role play initial encounters if your child is nervous about meeting new people. Pretend to be another child or use stuffed animals to act out a difficult situation. When your child is ready, encourage him to apply his newfound skills in the playground. Small steps are important; for example, before expecting your child to spend time with people he doesn’t know, set up a challenge to do something small such as saying hello to someone new.
Organize small group or one-on-one activities.
Parents need to make it happen. Perhaps invite another child or two over to your house with the parents for a comfortable first step. You can choose the playmate and frequency of the playdate that will make your child the most comfortable.
Sign your child up for an extracurricular activity
Introverted adults typically make friends based on shared interests and compatibility. Why not try the same type of thing for your child? Signing up for an extracurricular activity is a great way to promote a non-threatening social situation since focusing on an activity means there’s less pressure to chit-chat with strangers. Also, extracurriculars provide kids with an immediate sense of belonging to a group. As most of these types of activities take place over weeks or months, your child will have time to warm up and ease into possible friendships on her own terms.
Don’t assume your child is anxious and depressed
It’s not unusual for parents to worry about their introverted children or wonder if their behavior is mentally and emotionally healthy, especially if extroverts themselves. It’s true that children can suffer from anxiety and depression, just as adults can, and it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of childhood depression and get help when needed; however your child may simply be an introvert. Keep this in mind.
The bottom line:
People have a tendency to evaluate their worth by their popularity, which sets the bar very high for the introverted child. Don’t play the numbers game. Your job as a parent is to give your child the opportunity to develop relationships, work to bring out the best in your quiet and reserved child, and most importantly, accept them for exactly who they are. Isn’t that what we all want?