My nine-year old daughter is hurt because I don’t want her by my side every second of the day. She is happiest interacting with others. My thirteen year old son doesn’t understand the word energy when I tell him I get energy from solitude. He asks if I mean excitement or physical energy. For the last few years I’ve searched for child-friendly ways to validate introversion and explain how it feels.
I finally landed on a couple of analogies that feel good.
Don’t Go to Sleep Ever
I had my daughter imagine herself at her best friend’s house for a sleepover. Imagine there are several girls there and they decide they are going to stay up all night because it will be so cool to tell everyone they didn’t go to sleep at all. Now picture it’s 3:30AM and your eyes are getting heavy. All the lights are on in the room and a Spongebob marathon is playing loudly on the TV. Your friend, Gretchen, keeps poking you and jabbering in your ear. You snap at her to leave you alone because the lack of sleep has made you a little cranky. You love Gretchen and want to hear all the funny stories she is telling, but you are dying to close your eyes for a while. You don’t want to be the loser who falls asleep first but your sleeping bag is so cozy and the pillow feels so soft under your head. You feel a deep need to rest, to get away from the voices, bright lights and blaring television.
That is how introversion feels when the need for alone time is high. There is an intense desire to retreat to a quiet space in order to rest and regain your ability to play and talk with your people. Solitude would feel so good. It would put you in touch with your dreams and bring you back to your happy self.
Stimulation and Interactions Draining Your Super Powers
Remember Superman wilting in the presence of the glowing green kryptonite rock? His broad chest slumping and his energy draining the longer he is subjected to the mysterious mineral. He can’t think of anything other than getting free of the debilitating material.
Son, this is how I feel at the end of summer when you and your siblings have been home every day or even after ONE particularly busy day of people and activities, like when we go to a water park or when all of you have friends over for the afternoon. I slump from the constant interactions and the need to be fully alert. I will feel a deep need to sit down away from all the activity. I’ll resist taking on any more activities for the day. My brain won’t work quickly or at full power. I may speak slower and say, I don’t know, often. My personality may even change a little to a more short-tempered being.
If the environment is especially disagreeable or negative it is like being placed in a room with a gigantic kryptonite rock versus a small one. Negativity, fighting and conflict drain my energy faster.
The presence of people (like kryptonite) zaps my physical and mental energy. By energy I mean the ability to be active and the ability to think clearly.
How to return to my full strength? Solitude and/or low stimulation. Time away from the great green rocks of busy-ness and human interaction.
How Awareness Helps Your Child Evolve
Awareness of the introvert experience is key in order to avoid hurt feelings and misunderstandings. My belief is the sooner the better for sharing information. If children understand that your grumpiness isn’t all their fault and they know that you will be yourself again after a break, they are less likely to internalize your reactions and more likely to be sensitive to their own needs and those of others.
How do you explain your introverted needs to your children?
Other posts that help explain introversion: