My five-year-old son has been a mild, quiet child since infancy. He’s into books and drawing, and while he has good pals, he’s definitely not the kind of boy who marches up to strange kids on the playground and instigates a rousing game of capture the flag. As an introvert myself (one who’s found the social requirements of parenthood a little difficult), I can sympathize. Below, nine things that only parents of introverted children will understand.
1. Playdates can be tricky. Sometimes we arrive at the playdate house and my son will camp out next to me, quietly, while I make small talk with the mother. The other kid, decidedly not an introvert, bounces around saying, “Want to play Batman? Rocket Man? Tex-Mex Man?” and I think, “Buddy, you’re making it worse. Lure him with a book or a game that involves carefully inserting 23,000 pennies into a jar.”
2. My kid is not a hugger. I’ve taught him the Handshake of Deflection, one of my early tricks, in which you jab the other person in the chest with your outstretched hand, rather than submit to a squeeze. (Next up: the “Kiss The Side Of My Head, Not My Lips” feint and parry.)
3. He doesn’t totally get why you there can’t be “reading” playdates, where each party hunkers down with his or her respective book. (Frankly, I don’t understand why this isn’t a thing either—parties would be so much more fun!)
4. Waiting for my son to ask another child to play is like watching a Native American hunter stalk an elk. First he will circle the other child for, oh, five hours. He’ll glance sideways all the while, never giving away his intention. Then he will play near the other child. As dusk gathers, he will screw up the courage to say “that’s my bucket,” just as the other kid is being packed up for home. I sigh and say, “Great work! You can try again tomorrow.”
5. The superheroes he invents are the lesser known, more modest denizens of Gotham: Measuring Man, for example, who quietly assesses whether a window could actually fit into that frame. Or, Reducing a Sauce Man, who stands at the counter and stirs a pretend bowl.
6. I feel a particular kind of anxiety about his social life at school, that he might not be boisterous enough or aggressive enough to navigate the social scene.
7. But I remind myself that “introvert” isn’t synonymous with “pushover.” The first time my kid negotiated a sticky social situation smoothly, I was so proud that tears came to my eyes.
8. I suspect that my son has a rich inner life—that maybe he’ll be a writer or an artist. And then I think, oh god, don’t be a writer or an artist.
9. Sometimes I worry that having a few good friends, instead of a large group of acquaintances, might leave him feeling lonely. But as an introvert, too, I know that a good pal or two is all one needs for a rich social life. It’s quality, not quantity.
Extroverts get all the attention, sure, and we tend to treat introversion as a problem to correct. But the world needs quiet people, too—we can’t all be social butterflies. He may not march up to kids at the park, but hey, he sure hosts a mean reading playdate.