The pandemic lifestyle, as it were, has done a number on our kids, from stunting their academic progress to challenging their mental health. Our naturally inclined introverts may have been okay with a protracted cocooning, but our extroverts truly wrestled with their forced isolation. I naively thought that once things settled down and restrictions were lifted, our supremely social and sometimes-overly-gregarious kids would just bounce back and keep on keepin’ on. What happened, though? Once normalcy was thrown out the window, so were their social skills, and now they are facing an unprecedented hurdle: they need to learn how to break out of their introvert-designed shells and take (figurative and literal) center stage again.
Of course, being an introvert is a-okay. But other kids need reminders on how to reengage with the world around them.
Lifehack’s Dave Ursillo offers some strategies to get your inner introvert to engage with an often overwhelming world, including “RELAX, GET COMFORTABLE” and “JUST DO IT!” According to Ursillo, one thing the introvert needs to do is learn to “view each interaction, and each new social setting as a unique challenge, opportunity and adventure to meet new and wonderful people.” Convincing our kids to see social interactions as a welcome “adventure” seems about as realistic as convincing them that getting their blood drawn is the “opportunity of a lifetime.”
When you’re a parent trying to gingerly encourage a newly-and-uncomfortably-introverted kid along, you need more practical strategies. Here are a few that, alone or in tandem, just might work:
Make them your sidekick
You can act as a temporary buttress as they learn to navigate a world that is now a bit intimidating. Try the grocery store, where they will be forced to communicate on a very low-key level. Maybe you send them to get the cereal in a crowded aisle or have them unload the groceries onto the conveyor belt so that they’re the ones who have to answer the invariable “Did you find everything you need?” Even if their communications are mono-syllabic, they are human-to-human interactions–and this is what your introvert-by-circumstance needs.
Sign them up for some activities
Of course, you can try to encourage them to “seek out those they share interests with”– but, even as an adult, I would have a hard time doing that. Instead, why not give your once-extrovert the goal of joining at least one organization where “those they share interests with” are built-in, even a Dungeons and Dragons club.
Still…encourage them to practice small-talk
There probably aren’t many among us who enjoy surface-level chitchat, but I think we all accept that it’s just a fact of life. When my youngest was in elementary school, he confided that he didn’t know what to say to his classmates. We came up with openers like “What did you do this weekend?” and pretty much any other question that couldn’t be answered with a single word; we practiced eye contact; my husband and I cued him before school to help him remember these pointers. This same strategy might very well help your pandemic-produced introvert morph back into the extrovert they used to be, a kid who enjoys the “extra bang that comes from activities like meeting new people, skiing slippery slopes and cranking up the stereo.”
As we parents know, if you push any child too hard, your efforts—no matter how well-intentioned—are likely to be met with obstinate resistance. That’s the last thing we want. It’s important to remember what HeySigmund’s Cindy Price says: Our success—and that of our born-to-be extrovert—is about “gentle nudges, not hard thrusts.”