Whatever your belief about nature versus nurture before you became a parent, you quickly realize after your kids arrive on the scene that they really are "born this way" - in more ways than one.
Susan Cain's book Quiet reignited the extroversion/introversion conversation in popular culture. Her chapter focused on Jerome Kagan's work firmly planted both Ms. Kain and Dr. Kagan on the nature side of the debate. But Dr. Dario Nardi's current brain imaging work at UCLA proved through the use of MRI images that the brains of different personality types actually do "light up" in different ways in the same situations.
The first personality preference to reveal itself is extroversion or introversion. In fact, most personality type books state that this aspect of personality shows up as early as two years old. I don't know about you, but in both of my kids, this preference became abundantly clear before they could crawl. While this observation is fun during early Mommy & Me classes and baby play dates, as kids get older, extroverted kids thrive with very different parenting styles than introverts. This can be particularly challenging for introverted parents who will need to modify some of the strategies that worked best for them as kids into techniques that work better for extraverts. Here are the top 5 tips from our house to yours for parenting an extroverted child:
Tackling Time Outs
Instead of sending an extroverted child straight into time out when they act out of line, try this strategy instead:
Take two minutes to talk about what he did wrong and have him mirror what made you unhappy with his behavior.
Send him into time out for one minute per year of age.
Regroup for two minutes (or more) to talk about - or, better yet, role play - different strategies that could work better in a similar situation in the future.
This technique embraces the extravert's natural process of understanding, which is a discuss → reflect → discuss progression. (Very different than the reflect → discuss → reflect path to understanding that comes most naturally to introverts.)
Get in the Game
As an introverted parent, you may come home from a long day and crave time for yourself to recharge. Remember that this is the opposite feeling for your extroverted child. While it's perfectly fine to take 5 minutes for Mom, be sure to set aside a good sized daily block of time to recharge your outgoing child's batteries with lots of positive interaction. Whether you go for a walk together, play a board game, imagine you are pirates or fairies, or simply sit down and chat about her day over a snack, don't let her think that acting out is the only way to get you to interact in a way that she enjoys.
This is one of the most crucial things to remember to help your extroverted child achieve success in school. Remember that discuss → reflect → discuss path to understanding I talked about with respect to time outs? It's even more important when you're talking about school work. If you've been waging an uphill battle with your extravert during homework, try these techniques instead.
Take 15-20 minutes to chat with your child before breaking out the books. Or schedule a super-short play date with a friend. This interaction will help him recharge his batteries so he can take on his homework with gusto.
Talk to him about any assignments before sending him into the "solo zone" to complete his homework. This will get his brain fired-up about how to tackle his take-home tasks.
If an essay or any type of written expression task is on the agenda for the evening, make sure he's got some kind of voice recording device like an iTouch or smart phone. First, so that he can think out loud, then structure his thoughts after this verbal stream of consciousness. Encourage him to read his preliminary and final drafts aloud to catch any grammatical mistakes or unclear passages.
If you are an introvert, this can be one of the single-most frustrating aspects of parenting an extravert. Mostly because you have very different listening blocks than your child. Particularly in more heated conversations, your little extravert will naturally be inclined toward more "layered listening." You may recognize it as talking over each other. In order to help her listen and communicate more effectively, grab a box of unsharpened pencils. Hand a few to her and keep an equal number for yourself. Then, sit down to discuss the problem. When either of you speaks, you must put down one of the pencils. You are only allowed to speak when you've got a pencil to use. In this way, she will learn to pace the conversation in a way that helps her drink in a fuller picture of the situation from your side before adding her perspective.
One of the gifts that extraverts are blessed with that we introverts struggle with more often is the ability to stay "in the now." As an introvert, you are naturally more inclined to ruminate on the past or try to forecast the future. Your extroverted child can help you bring more awareness into what's happening right now and help you to live more often in the moment. And, as we've all experienced as parents, the moments when our children are small truly are fleeting, so the more time we spend being present with them is one of life's greatest gifts.