Is the first day of school a challenge for your introverted child?
Okay moms and dads, it’s that time of year again! Are you ready?!
For parents of school-age children, the month of August brings a flurry of activity. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle are our kids, winding down from summer fun and gearing up to go back to the daily grind of school and homework. Some kids are so excited they can hardly sleep; a new teacher, friends (some new, some old), and exciting adventures await them. However for every excited kid, somewhere there’s one that’s not so sure about things, one who would rather stay in their room than face a classroom full of new people, new rules, and new demands.
Kids that seem worried about the start of school could be having typical first day of school jitters that disappear as quickly as they come, especially after they see a familiar face in their new class or realize they have their big sister’s teacher from two years ago. They also may be shy or they could, by nature, be an introvert.
What’s the difference between being shy and being an introvert?Most people are familiar with the term “shy.” Shyness, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined by being easily frightened or timid, or feeling nervous or uncomfortable when talking to people. A child that is shy would understandably have a hard time in a new social environment. Typically, with some time and TLC, kids that are shy end up getting comfortable eventually. They may always be a quieter kid than most, and that, for them, is normal.
Introversion is different than shyness. An introvert is someone who is characterized by getting energy from time alone or from solitary activities, like reading, playing an instrument, going on a run or walk. An introvert prefers time alone or with a few friends to that of a large group or a big party. An extravert is quite simply, the opposite. The typical extravert enjoys and gets energized from being around others and is more likely to become bored if they are alone for an extended period of time.
My kid sounds like an introvert. Now what?First of all, there is absolutely nothing wrong with someone who is introverted or shy. Our American culture is an extraverted one, so it’s not unusual for people to sometimes see quietness, shyness or introversion as strange, a weakness or a fault. They are absolutely not any of those things.
Know that it’s okay if they prefer solitary activityIf your child shows some characteristics of being an introvert, just know that there could be some anxiety about starting the school year, although it may not be any more extreme than any other kids. You may notice your child craving some “recovery time” after a long day. They may prefer quieter or more solitary activities. They may want to join a book club, but have no interest in being in the school play. They may decline an invitation to a big birthday party or school event, even if friends are going. Introverts need their down time. The best thing a parent can do is give it to them. For an introvert, it takes lots of energy to be very social (think classroom setting), especially for a long period of time. Quiet time is how they recharge after expending all that energy. The best thing we can do is to let them have it, without questioning them as to why or making them feel guilty about it.
When it comes to the first day of school, and those days or weeks that follow, remember that your little introvert is working HARD. They are interacting with new adults and kids all day, and that alone can be exhausting. Add to that the demands of school and you’ll realize that kids have a lot going on. As a parent, you may see some extra tiredness, some extra quietness, even some extra grumpiness or irritability as they adjust to their new schedule.
Help them find a friendUsually, most kids find their groove pretty quickly once school starts, and introverted kids are no different. They don’t need to be friends with every kid in their class, they usually really only want one, two, or three close buddies. Once they find their way socially, they will adjust to the rest of the demands. An introverted child usually thrives during quiet activities, such as reading or writing. They are just as likely to succeed at other things as well, but they usually find the most comfort and peace during those solitary moments.
An introverted child may or may not have a hard time making friends, but if they do, you can help by talking with them and their teacher. Enlist your teacher’s help to look for a good buddy for your son or daughter. Ask the teacher to pair them up for activities so that they have to spend time together. Teach your child to look for someone that they would like to be friends with. Review social and friendship skills (smiling, sharing, and good eye contact go a long way). Encourage them to look for something that they may have in common with this future friend. Also, let them know that making friends is not a race. You do not have to come home on the first day of school with a new best friend. Finding and making true friends takes time, and that is ok.
Show empathyEmpathize with your child even if you are not an introvert yourself. Let them know that you understand that the start of the school year can be hard, and that together, you will get through it. For playdates outside of school, some introverted kids feel a bit overwhelmed or stressed at the idea of going to someone else’s house; unfamiliar parents, siblings, and pets can be intimidating. Be willing to offer up your home as a place for the kids to play or suggest a neutral spot, like a neighborhood playground that everyone is familiar with.
With support and understanding, introverts usually have no trouble finding their way. Parents and teachers may worry about them, but they are typically the ones insisting to everyone that they are “fine” because they are! Let them guide you when it comes to socializing and down time. Make sure they are equipped with the coping skills and social skills to deal with life and how to find friends- all on their own terms, of course!