Raising an Introvert

Sarah Feuerbacher, director at SMU's Center for Family Counseling, talks about raising an introverted child.

By Julie Lyons

Selah Butler is huddled in a corner sobbing. Tragedy, it seems, has struck her inner world, and the 7-year-old is generating real tears while playing “Princess” – much to the amazement of her older brother. “My father has perished,” Selah pronounces between sobs, “and I must return to my home country.”
 Josiah, 9, looks at her incredulously. “Did you make yourself cry?” he asks.
 “Yes,” Selah replies. “I think God lets girls do that.”
 It is another tantalizing glimpse into the psyche of Selah, whose internal life is so much more interesting to her than playgrounds or playdates. Selah, a blond second-grader with intense blue eyes, is far from shy – adults, in fact, are captivated by her conversational skills – but she is an introvert. She doesn’t merely prefer time alone, she requires it. And after a full day at school in Richardson, she happily retreats to her room, where she draws, sings, engages in imaginary play or simply collapses in sleep, shutting out stimuli. It is her way to recharge and regroup, to regain control.
 Some 25 percent of Americans are introverts, or innies, and their tendencies emerge early in life. Often confused with shyness – a learned fear of social situations – introversion is a built-in temperament with physiological hard-wiring and a strong genetic component, and its basic bent will not change over the course of life.
 Introverts’ source of inspiration comes from within themselves, not from others; they use that energy to excel in concentration, creativity and empathy. While some innies can don extroverted behavior like a mask if the social situation calls for it, they are happiest alone or among a few trusted faces. Large groups of human beings tax them, sucking out their inner life force, as do noises, bright colors and commotion. The swirl and bustle of the extroverted world – including elementary-school classrooms and overly active little brothers – can incite meltdowns....

“Introverts prefer quiet activities and solitary situations where there is less stimulation in the environment,” says Sarah Feuerbacher, Ph.D., who serves on the graduate faculty of counseling at Southern Methodist University. This inward focus produces many advantages: Introverts are typically independent, thoughtful, sensitive, calm, intelligent, inquisitive, creative, reflective, purposeful, driven, talented and “confident in their known skill sets,” Feuerbacher says....