Last week, I took my kids to their first concert. The auditorium was exploding with dance music, squeals of delight, and small bodies wiggling in the aisles. With each new song, my son became more energized. By the end of the concert, his batteries were fully charged, and he danced all the way to the car.

About halfway through the concert, his sister was comfortably snuggled next to me, covering her ears from time to time to soften the noise. She recharged her batteries on the quiet car ride home.

Both kids loved the concert, but it reminded me of their different temperaments: my son is an extrovert and my daughter is an introvert. As a parent, it’s important to understand the unique needs that come along with each temperament and have strategies for supporting both.

What is Temperament?

We are born with our temperament, or the way we behave and the emotions we exhibit, and one type isn’t better than the other. Extraverts enjoy being social and are comfortable with crowds, noise, and unexpected events. Interacting with people charges their batteries.

Introverts are more comfortable in a calm environment. This doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy a big birthday party or a carnival — they may just become overwhelmed more quickly, need to take breaks, and want to be alone afterwards. Quiet time charges their batteries.

Introverted children have ways of interacting that help them feel more comfortable. These include:

  • Communicating with people one-on-one or in small groups
  • Thinking before sharing aloud
  • Observing before jumping into something new
  • Recharging in a quiet, calm environment

So how can parents help young introverts develop their strengths and confidence? Here are four strategies to keep in mind.

Provide Warm-Up Time

Introverted kids may take more time to warm up to a new activity, and that’s okay. They may want to observe a game before joining in or hear how other kids respond at circle time before they raise their hand. While we want to encourage kids in healthy ways, pressuring them to jump in before they are ready can backfire.

When my daughter was three, we joined a tumbling class. She spent the first 15 minutes clutching my skirt. Then she began to copy the teacher’s actions from the back wall. Finally, in the last few minutes, she stepped in and joined the group. The next week, she only need a few minutes of observation time. By week three, she ran to the mat when class began. I was grateful I resisted the urge to push her in before she was ready.

Help Them Understand Their Surroundings

When we go to a new place, if there is a change in routine, or if we are starting a new activity, I keep this Daniel Tiger strategy song in mind: “When we do something new, let’s talk about what we’ll do.”

Unfamiliar people, places, and experiences can be particularly stressful to introverted children. Remind them that it’s normal to have excited or scared feelings before they do something new. Talk to your child about what to expect in simple, step-by-step terms. What will they do at the doctor’s office during their yearly check-up? What will the dentist do? What will the first day of school be like? What will they see at the hospital when they go visit their grandpa? What is it like to ride on a subway, bus, or airplane for the first time? This activity helps prepare kids for stressful situations.

Allow Time to Recharge

Introverts crave the time and space to recharge, particularly after a busy day. This might look like cuddling with a parent, coloring, reading, hiding in a pillow fort, or playing quietly with a favorite toy. As parents, if we build in recharging time when they are little, they can develop their own “recharging” strategies as they get older.

Celebrate Their Strengths

Think about how we sometimes talk about extraverted kids: He’s so outgoing! She’s fearless! He loves to ham it up! 

Rarely do you hear with the same enthusiasm: She’s quiet! He’s great at looking before leaping! She’s a wonderful observer! He’s a thoughtful listener! But those traits are equally worth celebrating.

In a loud world, an introverted child may sometimes wonder if there’s something “wrong” with them if they don’t want to volunteer to go up on stage or if they aren’t the center of attention at the playground (and don’t really want to be). We can point out their obvious and quiet strengths and remind them that they are special just the way they are. Or as Fred Rogers put it, “There's no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.”