What makes someone an introvert? Is my introverted child insecure or lacking self esteem? Is she doomed to a life of social awkwardness?
Being introverted is all about where you get your energy. Introverts gain energy through quiet introspection, and burn energy in group interaction. This has no bearing on self esteem or social prowess. Introverts can be quite charming and social. They simply need time alone to recharge after expending energy socially. An introverted child can be emotionally healthy and socially adroit. Please note that I am only discussing introversion and extroversion and not any specific labels often applied to gifted children, such as NVLD (non verbal learning disability) or Asperger's Syndrome. Children with these issues require special consideration.
Extroverted people thrive on interaction and love large groups. They obtain energy from external sources and they are uncomfortable spending large amounts of time alone. The extroverted child who is gifted may be prone to “thinking out loud” as he has a genuine need to share his thoughts and get feedback, if only a nod or brief comment. Extroverts can get moody if left to their own devices for too long, while their introverted peers may crave quiet time.
Introverts are a minority in the general population, yet a majority of gifted individuals are introverts. It is estimated that one third to one quarter of all people are introverted. If you look at statistics for people identified as gifted, the introverts make up 60% of the group. Among those identified with IQs over 160, the percentage of introverts shoots up to a whopping 75%! Look around at the kids in the gifted program, or at the next gifted conference you attend. Chances are, the majority of the people you see will be introverts.
How does introversion affect young children who are gifted? A gifted girl who is an introvert may spend hours and hours playing imaginatively with her best friend, but she may feel overwhelmed at that friend's birthday party and choose to sit quietly in the corner rather than take part in the games. She may relish lengthy conversations with an interested adult or older child, but be unwilling to speak up in front of her class. Well meaning extroverts may try to “bring the child out of her shell”, but for most introverts, a radical change is out of the question. Research has proven that introverted brains process information in a different manner, with more frontal lobe activity and lower tolerance for sensory input. This doesn't mean that an introvert cannot learn to speak in public, but that it may take time and effort for her to feel comfortable doing so. Parents can discuss with kids where they fall on the introversion/extroversion scale, and allow their kids to articulate feelings about their personal preferences. It is essential that children learn how to care for themselves and maintain a healthy balance. A parent can encourage the introverted child to reach out more, to try out for the dance team or the school play, while also offering advice about how to take a self imposed time out between scenes, just to be alone. Above all, it is important to impart to your child that it's ok to be who she is.
Your introverted child will feel most at ease working and playing one on one or in small groups. He may need time to reflect and contemplate events before discussing them. Asking him to provide a personal report on the soccer game he just played may get you the score, but little else. Tomorrow he may feel ready to tell you about that goal he just missed or the fact that his coach gave him a compliment. The first response of an introvert tends to be superficial or noncommittal, with detailed observances coming forth only after careful introspection. When put on the spot, introverts tend to get that “deer in the headlights” look and run for cover at the first opportunity. It's best to give introverts time to mull things over. You can have a preliminary conversation, and tell the child, “I don't want you to say anything now, but I would like you to think it over, and share your thoughts at dinner.” Most gifted kids who are introverts will be well prepared for that meal time discussion!