Introversion is often mistaken for shyness and many well-meaning parents and teachers believe the best way to overcome this is to encourage introverted students to speak up and participate more actively in class.
Fortunately, there’s a growing awareness that introverts are not shy but think and react differently based on biological variances in the brain.
Researchers have found that introverts require less sensory stimulation to release dopamine, explaining why they are more easily overwhelmed. Grey matter is also thicker in the prefrontal cortex of introverts, which is the part of the brain involved in deep thinking and planning.
The school years are often difficult for introverted students because they are overwhelmed by all the noise and activity. Being required to participate in group work and speak ‘off the cuff’ in front of others is very daunting for this personality type as they like to ponder ideas and plan what they’re going to say.
Due to their reflective nature introverts have many strengths, including good listening, observation and planning skills. While educators are beginning to recognise these positive attributes and adapt their teaching methods, the education system is still largely geared towards extroverts.
To help your introverted student relax and enjoy school:
It’s a good indication your child is an introvert if they like to spend a lot of time in solitary pursuits and retreat to their bedroom after socialising. Unlike their extroverted counterparts, introverts are depleted by social contact and need time to replenish.
It’s important for introverts to know there’s nothing wrong with them. If your child is listening and engaged in class, but is reluctant to speak up, don’t try to force them ‘out of their shell’ as this will have the opposite effect. If they feel uncomfortable working in groups encourage them to step out of their comfort zone, but without judgement.
Introverts often have a great deal to say and the best way to instill confidence is to get them used to sharing their thoughts. Ask them about their opinions on different subjects and discuss what they’re learning in school. The more accustomed they become to sharing their views, the more comfortable they’ll feel in the classroom.
Many parents become worried that their child doesn’t have many friends at school. Introverts are self-reliant and prefer to develop close relationships with a few people rather than a wide social circle. Making them feel inadequate about this will only cause anxiety.
Going straight from school to other activities can be exhausting for introverts. The easiest way to gauge what is best for your child is to ask them. Introverts generally have good self-knowledge, so listen when they tell you what they need.
There are many things teachers can do to make school a more inviting place for introverts. If your child is not feeling supported at school, speak to their teacher about their needs. You might want to recommend Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. There are some great free resources for parents and teachers on Cain’s website.