Extrovert or Introvert: You and Your Child
An important aspect of a child's personality has to do with what is called "temperament." Temperament refers to a one's predisposition to act and react in certain ways based on personality characteristics that are present at birth. One of the most well known scales for assessing temperament is the "Myers-Briggs Type Indicator" developed by Isabel Myers and her mother, Kathryn Briggs. The Myers-Briggs scale is based on Carl Jung's "psychological types" described in his book of the same title.
Jung proposed that all of us have a natural inclination toward either extroversion or introversion that we combine with a preference for four basic psychological functions which are "thinking," "feeling," "sensation," and "intuition." The Myers-Briggs scale tests for these inclinations and preferences and offers sixteen different personality profiles that specify one's tendencies towards extroversion or introversion along with particular preferences for either thinking versus feeling, sensory versus intuitive, and judging versus perceiving.
For parents, knowing about a child's temperament can be very helpful in understanding what kinds of activities and situations can best bring out natural talents and preferences, as well as what kinds of situations are difficult and sometimes draining. Armed with this information, a parent can better understand why a child acts in particular ways as well as guide her towards successful pursuits. It is also helpful for parents to understand their own temperament characteristics and to see how these fit in with or clash with their child's. This will become clearer later in the article.
What I'd like to discuss here are the tendencies towards extroversion and introversion. These are basic to the other preferences mentioned above, and understanding them provides a good introduction to the whole subject of temperament. For more information on the typologies outlined by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, read Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey.
Everyone is capable of being both extroverted and introverted, and in many cases the way we act is dictated by the situation we're in and what kind of presentation is called for. For example, if you have a job that requires a lot meetings, interaction with many people, and perhaps participation in group projects, you will take on a somewhat extroverted approach as that is what is required in those situations. At the same time, you may have a preference for introversion. The point is that we all have a preference for one or the other that becomes apparent when we consider where we tend to draw our energy from, or said another way, how we are energized. The extrovert draws energy from or is energized by other people. They thrive in situations where there is a lot of interaction, activity, and stimulation. As such, extroverts are usually quite social and gregarious and have an innate ability to talk to new people. They are comfortable in groups, quick to approach others including strangers, and enjoy working in busy stimulating environments. Conversely, they can feel quite lonely and drained if they have to spend a lot of time alone.
Keirsey characterizes extroverts as "expressive." They tend to direct their energy outward toward action and speech. The desire to interact along with a preference for activity can lead them to act before thinking. This has to do with their innate enthusiasm for the process and energy fostered through personal interaction as opposed to internally processing information before interacting or communicating. Extroverts seem accessible and often are noticed because of their ease with others and obvious pleasure in conversing and interacting with others. They are more likely to enjoy being in the public eye, and gravitate toward activities that promote interaction or that cater to larger groups of people.
Unlike extroverts, introverts can become drained by too much interaction. They draw their energy from the inner world of thoughts, emotions, and ideas. They tend to be more contemplative and are likely to pursue solitary activities that allow them to work quietly and alone. If they do attend social functions or participate in group activities, they will need time alone to recharge themselves after leaving the group. They tend to leave parties early whereas the extrovert will stay until everyone else has gone home.
Keirsey characterizes introverts as "reserved." They tend to hold back their own thoughts and ideas in order to carefully listen to what others say while thoughtfully processing and taking in the information offered. The extrovert, on the other hand, has a need to express and is eager to say what's on his mind in lieu of listening. The extrovert is quick to speak and slow to listen, whereas the introvert is quick to listen and slow to speak.
Introverts prefer one-on-one or small group interactions. They are most comfortable with people they know well and enjoy in-depth conversations that focus on ideas, concepts, and reflective thought. They can concentrate and savor the content of such an interchange unlike the extrovert who savors the energy of the interaction over the content. Introverts are private people who take time to get to know.
The Extroverted Child
The extroverted child is usually high-energy and enjoys doing things with his parents. They like partnerships, interactive play, and often performing. Conversely, these children do not tend to enjoy playing alone in their rooms for great periods of time. They don't self-entertain well, and in terms of learning style, they learn best through interaction and talking. Adolescent extroverts tend to like study groups as they learn by explaining what they know to others, or by hearing others explain it to them. In general, these children will enjoy interacting with other children and will be energized by group activities.
Activities for the Extroverted Child
Extroverted children may enjoy any of the following activities (from Creating Balance in Your Child's Life by Beth Wilson Saavedra, pp. 177-214):
- Putting on plays, puppet shows, or slapstick comedy routinesDressing up in costumes and play acting
- Speaking into a microphone or addressing an audience
- Building things
- Arts and crafts
- Playing team sports
- Joining social clubs
- Going to libraries, museums, or scientific exhibitions
- Going on picnics or to camps
- Participating in any of the performing arts
- Speaking freely on subjects of personal interest
- Discussing ideas and future goals to an enthusiastic listener
- Participating in physical activity such as jumping on trampolines
Situations that Inhibit the Extrovert
Extroverts become bored if they spend too much time alone. Because of their interactive nature, they need plenty of outlets for their energetic and creative expression whether this be on an artistic, physical or intellectual level. Moreover, they need feedback from others and prefer demonstrating their talents to others rather than gaining a sense of accomplishment on their own. Because extroverts have a strong need to express their ideas and views, they are greatly hampered by those who are critical or raise many objections in the course of their expression. They also object to a lot of routine, or long projects that seem to go on indefinitely. Extroverts need new stimulation on a regular basis and are drained by long-term commitments that stymie their need for variety. This doesn't mean that they cannot make long-term personal commitments to relationships or to personal goals, but they will need to find ways to bring variety and excitement to these situations.
Soothing Activities for the Extrovert
A bubble bath with lots of toys, time just to talk and express, walking in nature with a loved one and talking, or being read to are all calming activities for the extrovert. Having a partner or helper to assist with tedious work, or even to bounce ideas off of is important to the extrovert. Sometimes physical activity that involves smooth, large body movements such as water dance or yoga help to center the extrovert. Above all, being able to pursue his or her goals and interests is very important to the extrovert and requires patience and support from parents.
The Introverted Child
The introverted child may enjoy some of the same activities as the extroverted child, but they will place more emphasis on self-exploration as opposed to self-expression. This is especially true in activities involving the performing arts (Saavedra, pp. 177-214).
- Keeping a journal
- Creative writing including stories, prose and poetry
- Dramatic play
- Painting, drawing, working with clay
- Arts and crafts
- Playing alone, especially imaginary play using toy figures, or playing school or store
- Going to libraries and browsing or reading
- Building things, doing puzzles, playing on computers
- Pursuing or studying a single subject or idea in -depth
- Spending hours alone in their rooms in solitary activity
- Spending time with one or two good friends
- Parallel play
- Situations that Inhibit the Introvert
The introverted child is bothered most by any situation or activity that is overstimulating. They are generally sensitive to noise, crowds, and too many activities going on at one time. If around people for too long without some alone time to recharge, these children become drained which can manifest as crankiness, tiredness, or even physical symptoms such as tummy aches, headaches, and so forth. They don't like changing quickly from one activity to another and are very sensitive to constant or rapid changes. In general, the introvert likes to have his or her independence and is unhappy when external situations or other people work against this need.
Soothing Activities for the Introvert
Introverts like to have a lot of time alone to explore ideas, contemplate, or become engrossed in activities. They can spend days working on a project and will be relaxed if they can work without interruptions. Introverts also enjoy having time to daydream and get lost in books, art, or their own thoughts. They generally like peaceful environments, and prefer to have time mapped out ahead of time so they can make the necessary emotional adjustments. It is equally important to have expectations clearly understood before embarking on an activity. Keep in mind that introverts like to process all the information available before acting, and also work well when they can figure out and understand the interconnections between ideas. Some introverted children will show a desire to pursue a singular activity or interest early in life.
About Your Temperament
In thinking about which category your child falls into, you have undoubtedly considered your own temperament type as you've read through this article. This is important, not only in helping you to crystallize and confirm what you may already know about yourself, but also to help you understand differences or likenesses you and your child may have. If you are an introverted parent with an extroverted child, you most likely can feel drained by his constant need for your participation in activities down to the simplest thing as going through a new book. Conversely, if you an extroverted parent with an introverted child, you may be puzzled by her seeming need to be alone for periods of time, or her irritation when you are talking too long or engaging her in a lot of activities outside the home. What you can learn from either situation is to alter your strategies for dealing with certain kinds of behavior. Your new understanding of how your child draws in energy can aid you in setting up the best environments and activities for your particular child, as well as help you make some room in your schedule to attend to your own needs.
One cautionary word is not to assign all types of behavior and tendencies to simplified temperament categories. It is important to keep the big picture in mind when dealing with personalities and styles of activity. Along with temperament, other factors such as developmental age, home environments, stress, and family relationships all play a role in forming your child's behavioral style. Our hope here is to bring to your attention the possible role temperament can play so that you can make use of this information to aid you in furthering your child's successes.