The Quiet Child
I was a quiet child. I was not so quiet at home of course, where I was surrounded by familiar people who loved me unconditionally, and where I was allowed to cause havoc with my brother and cousins, but when I was out of that comfort zone, I was always timid and quiet.
Whenever I met a new child or an adult I was reluctant to speak or interact with them in any way. Sometimes I refrained from talking to family members whom I did not particularly like, and I was stubborn when it came to forcing me to talk.
I was born in a big and loving family with 6 aunts and uncles and their kids. When I turned one year old, my father got a job in another country, and the three of us, mom, dad and myself, left the family and traveled to live there. I would stay all day long with my mother, with no one else in the house. I had no other children to play with in order to develop any social skills. When I was three, my brother was born, but what social interactions could I have with a new-born baby?
Years went by, and we came back home when I was 5. At that point, a different part of my life started. I was enrolled in a school. A nice school for sure, but the enormity of the sudden change was hard for me. I was used to the close and warm small-family life, but now, somehow, I was supposed to deal with the open world, which I simply did not do. I kept to myself and shut all other people out, sometimes violently.
From my first day in grade one till my last day in high school I preferred solitary activities over group activities. In elementary school I did not have any friends. I would go to the library during recess to read a comic book while eating my sandwiches or, in the cases when the library was not open, I would stand in a secluded corner of the play ground and watch the other kids play around and getting dirt all over their clothes. I felt like I was watching a show about mischievous creatures that were not part of the same species to which I belong. Amusing, but also shocking.
My loneliness lessened a bit when I joined high school. I found a small, like-minded group of kids who preferred to stay in class and enjoy a fine game of chess or a deep conversation about anything, to the more socially demanding activities. Cars, politics, girls, and future dreams were our favorite subjects of conversation. I always dragged them down the road of politics to talk about what everyone would do if they had undisputed power to rule over a nation. The answers were intriguing. To me, it revealed much of the human nature in each of them.
It might seem to some of you that my quiet nature, that continues to be true even as a 35 years old chemical engineering professional, is the product of my early childhood experience. That is not entirely true, but it is not false either. I am a quiet person because I am an introvert. Introversion is one of the two major personality traits. The other trait being extroversion. Although there are many definitions to these two terms, the most dominant are those coined by Carl Jung (1875–1961), the Swiss psychiatrist known for his studies of personality traits and the introduction of analytical psychology.
The differences between an introvert and an extrovert are simply and accurately explained in Encyclopedia Britannica, “According to these theories (Jung’s theories), an introvert is a person whose interest is generally directed inward toward his own feelings and thoughts, in contrast to an extrovert, whose attention is directed toward other people and the outside world. The typical introvert is shy, contemplative, and reserved and tends to have difficulty adjusting to social situations. Excessive daydreaming and introspection, careful balancing of considerations before reaching decisions, and withdrawal under stress are also typical of the introverted personality. The extrovert, by contrast, is characterized by outgoingness, responsiveness to other persons, activity, aggressiveness, and the ability to make quick decisions.”
Modern psychologists have coined a new term, Ambivert, that indicates a person with mixed traits from introversion and extroversion. Most people are actually Ambiverts with different percentages of introvert and extrovert traits in them. In my case, I am mostly an introvert, with a score of 85% introversion on the 16 Personalities test. I am like this because of my early childhood experience that reinforced and improved my introversion traits.
The 16 Personalities test is based on the work of Isabel Myers and Katharine Briggs, a daughter and her mother, who established together the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, (MBTI), building on the work of Carl Jung, and adding more traits to the personality types he initially described. I recommend reading about MBTI and its derivatives, but I am not going into depth about it here.
According to Jung, people are born with a biological brain wiring that makes them introverts or extroverts. Life experience and the environment in which the child lives determine whether these traits are reinforced or not. An extrovert born in a family of introverts will not be as outgoing and aggressive as an extrovert born into an extroverted family. She or he will develop introverted interests and traits such as a liking for books and literature for example, and a better coping with being alone for extended periods of time.
Depending on the strength and depth of such environmentally introduced traits, a person that gets a result of e.g. 62% extroversion and 38% introversion when tested for introvert/ extrovert traits, is born as an extrovert, but had introverted traits infused in his or her personality through family and environment. No one is 100% introvert or extrovert.
Parenting a Quiet Child
If you are a parent to a quiet child in this crazy extroverted times we live in, it is not an easy job. You will find yourself inclined to push your child to be more talkative and interactive with other kids, even if you are an introverted person. The society has taught us that extroversion is the right way to live your life, and thus, unconsciously, you might try to push your child to be more extroverted . You must fight that urge.
Quiet children do not like to do socially or physically demanding activities or to have too many “friends”. It is absolutely OK if your children prefer chess to football, or if they would rather spend the week-end at home reading a nice book.
You need to know that there is huge difference between encouraging your children to explore the world, and negatively nagging them to be more social or to be more outgoing. The first builds the children’s confidence and opens their minds to opportunities and possibilities that they, as kids, might not even know are out there. The latter, destroys their confidence and self-esteem and makes them feel they are lacking and incomplete, and it will go on with them through their adulthood, making life an ongoing pain to endure.
Walking that fine line is not easy, especially in this time when all school activities are based on group work and where athletes are celebrated while intellectuals are shunned and made fun of. Accepting your children’s nature and loving them no matter what is the first step to achieving that balance.
Every day, I meet with people who are desperately lacking self-esteem and suffering from anxiety and other disorders. Tracking back the source of all these problems always leads to one end: Parents.
Love your sons and daughters. Hug them. Tell them you are proud of them. The world needs this.