The "Silent Treatment" vs. the Talking Machine: Understanding Introverts and Extroverts
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The mother of an introvert
Stella slumped into her chair. "How are you supposed to figure out what your child's feeling when she refuses to talk to you!" "Yeah," Lis agreed, "that's my thirteen-year-old, she doesn't want to discuss problems or talk things out, she never has. She's the queen of the 'silent treatment.' If I try to talk to her, she complains that I'm repeating myself or that I talk too much. And she is always telling me to get out of her space."
"What I'd give for a few moments of silence," Ben sighed. "I've got Miss Motor Mouth living with me. She never stops talking. If she has a problem, she wants to discuss it over and over again. How many times can we discuss the fact that she didn't get invited to Katie's birthday party? If she thinks I'm not listening, she'll get right into my face. Sometimes she'll even turn my head toward her and demand, 'Are you listening to me?'"
Believe it or not, the "silent resister" and the "motor mouth" aren't really trying to pull you into power struggles. They're simply processing information and recharging in their own preferred styles.
That's why if you're a person who needs to talk through a problem, you may feel rejected by a child who pushes away from you and puts his hands over his ears when you try to talk about his feelings. He really doesn't hate you. He needs to process his feelings in a style that's different from yours. And if you're the type of person who prefers to pull your feelings inside and think about them, you may feel invaded by your child who has to "unburden" herself every time she's upset. If you don't understand these differences, you can unwittingly trigger each other and end up disconnecting when you're actually trying very hard to connect.
Fortunately, there are patterns to how we process information. Every individual has a preferred style. When you understand your own and your child's preference, you'll know which strategies to use in order to keep your child working with you.
We don't get to choose our children's type, but we can help our kids understand their Style and what they need, and teach them how to work with us, especially if our styles are different. In this chapter I'll describe introversion and extroversion, whether we need to go inside of ourselves to process information and recharge, or whether we need to go outside of ourselves and reflect. It's these preferences that can help us understand why some kids seem to give us the silent treatment while others never seem to stop talking.
Introversion and Extroversion
It's the extroverts who need to go outside of themselves, talking and interacting with others and the world around them in order to figure out how they feel and to find the energy to cope. Introverts go inside of themselves in order to sort out their feelings. They need space, unstructured time, and quiet in order to polish their thoughts and energize. Introversion and extroversion do not describe social skills. Introverts can be very social people and strong leaders. They simply think and feel best when they have the opportunity and space to reflect. Extroverts are not all party animals. If they are temperamentally cautious in new situations, they may be quiet initially when meeting people, but they like to do their thinking by talking. They are energized by interaction and activity.
Most people demonstrate a preference for one style or the other, but each of these traits is on a continuum. You can have a strong preference or a slight one. What's most important is recognizing at a particular moment whether your child needs time, space, and quiet, or an opportunity to talk. If you watch closely your child will let you know her preference, even if she's only an infant.
Extroverts are the babies who fuss and squirm when you hold them up to your shoulder and are just fine when you turn them away from you so they can watch the world around them. They are the older kids who grab your attention the minute they come home from school or child care by shoving their papers into your face. They need to talk and they need to talk now! Too much time alone can leave extroverts drained and irritable. They're the kids who clamor to bring a friend home from school or complain they are bored when there's no one to play with. You may worry about their self-esteem because they rarely choose to play by themselves. When they're upset, they don't want to be alone. They'll follow you around, touch you, and move right into your space. If you want them to take a break, they will but only if you go with them, which often isn't what you need at all. Ask them how they feel, and they'll have an immediate answer, which may change the more they talk and "think" about it.
Those who prefer introversion go within themselves to process their emotions and recharge. They are the kids who tell you about the bully on the playground three days after they've been roughed up or teased. Ask about their day right after school, and they have a one syllable answer. It's not until bedtime that they're ready for a full discussion, and then you think they're just stalling. If you ask them how they feel when they are upset, they may not be able to answer until hours or even days later.
Introverts have a strong sense of personal space. If their space is invaded even by an offer of a hug they may pull away. It's not that they aren't affectionate; they are. They simply like to choose who and when someone comes into their space. And it's not only their physical space that they like to protect. They may also complain that someone is looking at them, breathing on them, or talking too much!
Noise and crowds drain introverts and leave them feeling cranky. After a hectic day at school or child care, they want to go home, lie down on the couch, and watch a video. They're not unmotivated, they're simply taking a break to recharge and process their thoughts before they begin homework or other tasks. Bringing a friend home from school for a play date can be a disaster unless you can help them figure out how to put on a quiet video to watch together or get some downtime before the interaction begins again.
More on: Behavior and Discipline
From the book KIDS, PARENTS, AND POWER STRUGGLES: Winning for a Lifetime by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, published by HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2000 by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. All rights reserved.
Buy the book at www.harpercollins.com.