Linda Kreger Silverman, Ph.D. Gifted Development Center Denver, Colorado
The American dream is to be extraverted. We want our children to be "people who need people." We want them to have lots of friends, to like parties, to prefer to play outside with their buddies rather than retire with a good book, to make friends easily, to greet new experiences enthusiastically, to be good risk-takers, to be open about their feelings, to be trusting. We regard anyone who doesn’t fit this pattern with some concern. We call them "withdrawn," "aloof," "shy," "secretive," and "loners." These pejorative terms show the extent to which we misunderstand introverts.
The majority of Americans are extraverted (about 75%), but the majority of gifted children appear to be introverted (about 60%), and the percentage of introverts seems to increase with IQ (Silverman, 1986). In addition to the problems encountered with being gifted, these children are frequently misjudged because they are introverted. Introversion is a perfectly normal personality type identified by Carl Jung. It is actually healthy to be an introvert. The only unhealthy part of it is denying your true self and trying to disguise yourself as an extravert.
Introverts are wired differently from extraverts and they have different needs. Extraverts get their energy from interaction with people and the external world. Introverts get their energy from within themselves; too much interaction drains their energy and they need to retreat from the world to recharge their batteries. People can be extreme extraverts, extreme introverts, or a combination of both. Since extraversion is the dominant mode in our society, there are no "closet extraverts," but there are many "closet introverts," people who are so ashamed of their introversion that they try to be extraverts.
Here are some tips on the care and feeding of the introverts in your family or classroom:
HOW TO CARE FOR INTROVERTS
- Respect their need for privacy.
- Never embarrass them in public.
- Let them observe first in new situations.
- Give them time to think. Don't demand instant answers.
- Don't interrupt them.
- Give them advanced notice of expected changes in their lives.
- Give them 15 minute warnings to finish whatever they are doing before calling them to dinner or moving on to the next activity.
- Reprimand them privately.
- Teach them new skills privately rather than in public.
- Enable them to find one best friend who has similar interests and abilities: encourage this relationship even if the friend moves.
- Do not push them to make lots of friends.
- Respect their introversion. Don't try to remake them into extraverts.
Introverts need to learn about the positive benefits of their personality type. They need to be taught that reflection is a good quality, that the most creative individuals sought solitude, and that leaders in academic, aesthetic and technical fields are often introverts. Parents need to know that more National Merit Scholars are introverted than extraverted, and that introverts have higher grade point averages in Ivy League colleges than extraverts (Silverman, 1986). Contrary to public opinion, success in life is not dependent upon extraversion. Introverts also have an advantage at midlife in that long, hard journey to the soul which heralds the second half of the life cycle. The time has come to respect the introverts in our families and classrooms, and the hidden introvert in ourselves.
I recommend the book Please Understand Me for parents, teachers and students to gain a better grasp of the different personality types in our lives. Great for family reading!
Keirsey, D., & Bates, M. (1978). Please understand me: Character & temperament types. Del Mar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis Books.
Silverman, L.K., (1986). Parenting young gifted children. In J.R. Whitmore (Ed.), Intellectual giftedness in young children. New York: The Haworth Press.