As a parent, you’re always looking for little clues that reveal your child’s personality. Does he have a natural sense of humor, or is he more serious? Is she a daredevil, or does she play it safe? Is your child an introvert or an extrovert?
According to Dr. Marti Olsen Laney in The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child , temperament is hard-wired. That means, although we can grow and change over time, we're born as either introverts or extroverts. And you can tell fairly early on — Laney says children begin to show signs of introversion or extroversion as early as four months of age.
Here are 10 signs that your baby or toddler is an introvert.
Signs Your Baby or Toddler Is an Introvert
Your child might be an introvert if he or she is...
(In many cases, an introverted child is "saying" all the things other kids would say, but simply doing it silently in his head — which, for an introvert, is just as engaging.) Also, if the teacher knows about your child’s introversion, the teacher may be able to gently help him navigate things like interactions with friends, participation in group work, or presenting in class .
1. Curious about the world but cautious about exploring it
Many introverts have sharp minds and are naturally curious. They wonder how the world works or what makes a person tick. They're not afraid to ask the big questions, as they seem to be on a perpetual quest to understand why .
But introverts also tend to be observers, preferring to watch and reflect rather than jump in and do. Your child might be an introvert if he or she hangs out on the edges of the play group, preferring to watch a while before joining in. Generally, introverted children like to play it safe rather than take risks. They look before they leap and think before they speak.
It's OK for your teen to be online. Online relationships are part of typical adolescent development. Social media can support teens as they explore and discover more about themselves and their place in the grown-up world. Just be sure your teen is behaving appropriately in both the real and online worlds. Many teens need to be reminded that a platform's privacy settings do not make things actually "private" and that images, thoughts, and behaviors teens share online will instantly become a part of their digital footprint indefinitely. Keep lines of communication open and let them know you're there if they have questions or concerns.
2. Sensitive to their environment
As a baby, your child may have cried or thrashed around when in places where there was lots of noise or activity. In 2004, Harvard psychologists Jerome Kagan and Nancy Snidman found that babies who are very reactive to unfamiliar stimuli tend to grow up to be shy, timid, or introverted adults. As your child gets older, he or she may shut down, cling to a “safe” person, or have meltdowns in the face of crowds, new people and situations, or busy environments. Compared to extroverts, introverts are more easily drained by stimulation .
3. Low birth weight or were born pre-term
A study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood - Fetal & Neonatal Edition found that babies born low-weight or pre-term are more likely to be introverts.
4. Clam up when meeting someone new but come alive at home
Around an unfamiliar person, your toddler avoids eye contact and goes quiet. Private by nature, introverts tend to need time to warm up to new people ; your child is no exception. However, at home, where your child feels comfortable, he or she won't hesitate to tell you a story or be silly. It's almost like your toddler is a different person around you and the family; his or her real personality comes out.
5. Easily become absorbed in solo play
Many introverted children have a strong imagination and a rich inner world that is alive and present for them. If your toddler spends hours lost in focused play with a certain toy, he or she might be an introvert. Older children will spend time in their bedrooms with the door closed, doing solitary activities like reading, drawing, or playing computer games.
6. Have a meltdown after a play date or busy day
Introverts get easily drained by socializing and need downtime to recharge their energy . When your kid spends time with other children, notice how they react. Do they seem tired, cranky, or overwhelmed after a play date — even if they had fun? If so, they might be an introvert. Similarly, your child might cry or have a meltdown after a very busy day with no breaks.
7. Struggle with separation anxiety
Not all introverted children have separation anxiety , but it's quite common for them to experience it. Introverts, in general, are more at-risk for anxiety and depression than extroverts, and children are no exception. What happens when you drop off your toddler at preschool? Does he or she cry, cling to your leg, and beg you not to leave — although the other kids seem fine? If so, your child might be an introvert experiencing separation anxiety.
Limit digital media for your youngest family members. Avoid digital media for toddlers younger than 18 to 24 months other than video chatting. For children 18 to 24 months, watch digital media with them because they learn from watching and talking with you. Limit screen use for preschool children, ages 2 to 5, to just 1 hour a day of high-quality programing. Co-viewing is best when possible and for young children. They learn best when they are re-taught in the real world what they just learned through a screen. So, if Ernie just taught the letter D, you can reiterate this later when you are having dinner or spending time with your child. See Healthy Digital Media Use Habits for Babies, Toddlers & Preschoolers.
8. Engage with the deeper aspects of life
All children ask questions. But an introverted child might surprise you with the depth of their thinking. They may seem older than they really are, somehow possessing profound insights beyond their years. Astonishingly, even at a young age, many introverted children can step outside themselves and reflect on their own behavior.
9. Struggle to express themselves
By definition, introverts are inward personalities. They can struggle with word retrieval , because, according to Laney, they may rely more on long-term memory than short-term memory. When speaking, your child may pause frequently, searching for just the right word. They may get frustrated at not being able to express what they mean. As toddlers, they may be drawn to stories, books, and art because these give them a language to understand and express what they're thinking and feeling.
10. Rely on their inner resources
Generally, introverted children rely on their inner resources to guide them rather than constantly turning to others. “In their private garden away from the material world they concentrate and puzzle out complex and intricate thoughts and feelings,” writes Laney. The downside is they may not ask for help when they would benefit from some adult guidance. The upside is they tend to be independent and self-directed.
Celebrate Your Introverted Child
Introversion is genetic , and introverts will stay introverts for life (in fact, people tend to get even more introverted with age). This means — although your child may surprise you at times — he or she will generally always have a preference for calm, minimally stimulating environments (and ample alone time).
Keep the tube in the family room. Research has repeatedly shown that children with a TV in their bedroom weigh more, sleep less, and have lower grades and poorer social skills. P.S. Parents with a television in their bedroom have sex less often.
Nevertheless, as the parent, you play a huge role in shaping your child’s personality, and science backs this up. Kagan and Snidman found that parents who were protective of timid children strengthened their shyness. However, when parents encouraged some sociability and boldness, the children became teenagers who showed less inhibition than their more fearful counterparts.
But also help them gently push their boundaries. The world could use a little more of what they have to give.
Trauma Touches Every Child
More resources for parents of introverts: