Introverts are known to generally enjoy social activities in small doses and in a controlled manner. Adults who understand how they are wired are able to plan their social life in a way that makes the most sense for them and on their own terms. However, as children haven’t yet developed enough self-awareness to tackle this aspect of their life, they can’t always express why they suddenly don’t want to go somewhere, even when they have been looking forward to it all week.
Now that the festive season is in full swing, this would be a good time to help your child feel comfortable in social settings such as a Christmas gathering. Here are some ways you can do so.
Introduce your child to new situations slowly
Introverts often feel anxious or overwhelmed in new environments and meeting new people. Instead of expecting your child to warm up to the other children at the party immediately, let your child stand back from everyone else at a comfortable distance near you (where they feel safe), and watch the event for a few minutes. This helps them to process the situation and gives them the time they need to be comfortable enough to join the others.
Alternatively, you could discuss the event ahead of time with your child; talking about who will be there, what is likely to happen, their thoughts and feelings about the event, and what they could say if they chose to start a conversation. If you are able to arrive at the venue earlier than everyone, use the time to let your child get comfortable with the place and surroundings before he or she gets overwhelmed by the large group of people.
Help your child take social breaks
While extroverts tend to thrive in social situations, introverts are more prone to feeling drained of energy in a setting they are not comfortable with. As such, to help your child recover from the unfamiliar environment, let them take social breaks in between when required. If your child is older, allow them the freedom to excuse themselves to a quieter part of the room, or a different location such as the bathroom or the outdoors. If your child is younger, they might not be able to detect their own change in energy level so it would be good to watch your child for signs of fatigue so that you can intervene when needed.
Praise your child if they are able to step out of their social comfort zone
It often takes courage for a child to try something new, and more so if they are introverted. So, if you’re at a Christmas gathering and you see your child taking a social risk and attempting something out of the norm; let them know that you recognise their efforts and that you admire them for they did. You could try saying something like this, “I saw you talking to your sister’s friend just now. I know that can be difficult, but I’m proud of what you did.”
Acknowledge your child enjoying something they were initially afraid of
Often, introverted children are able to enjoy themselves in social settings when they are comfortable enough. Though it is hard to watch them during a party or gathering, it is not difficult to find out when they are actually having a good time. So, if you see your child behaving as he would at home; point that out to them by saying, “You thought you were not going to enjoy this party, but you ended up with a lot of presents!” This creates a form of positive reinforcement which your child can use to self-regulate their feelings of nervousness and dread over time.
Teach your child to stand up for themselves
It is not unusual to find children playing together during a social gathering. Sometimes they may be playing games as a group, other times they could be playing with their own toys. In the event that another child tries to take a toy away from your child, teach her about the use of ‘no’ and ‘stop’, and encourage her to speak up when faced with a similar situation. This teaches introverted children that their voice is important and that using it can help to relay their message to the perpetrator.
Don’t use the word ‘shy’ to describe your child
Using the word ‘shy’ can create a negative effect on your child’s social well-being. If your introverted child hears you using the word ‘shy’ to describe them one too many times, they are likely to believe that the discomfort they feel around people is a fixed trait and it is not a feeling that they can learn to control. Instead, when introducing your child to others for the first time, try rephrasing your sentence with positivity to describe their quiet behaviour. For example, “Chloe is great at observing new situations.”
Let your child have their alone time
As socialising, or even navigating a new routine can be draining on an introverted child; don’t let their actions affect you personally. If they prefer to spend time alone doing an activity of their choice instead of joining the family in celebrating the festivities, go ahead and let them have that time to themselves. Give them the time to recharge in their own way and when they are ready, they’ll gradually re-join the family in the next activity.