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The "Silent Treatment" vs. the Talking Machine: Understanding Introverts and Extroverts

1. Coaching the Extroverts When They Need to Talk
The voice was tight, the message direct. "I've had it!" I recognized m friend Kathleen's voice and immediately returned her call. When she answered, I simply asked, "Tough day?" She growled in response. "I'm willing to listen," I invited.

"It's Courtney," she exclaimed. "She's unburdening herself again, complaining that she's got too much homework. Her teachers are to demanding. She'll never get all of her work done. I know she needs to do this, and I've listened for a good fifteen minutes. But now, I'm done!

Extroverts are the kids who need to talk about an issue over and over again until they've got it figured out. Hearing the words come out c their mouths allows them to sort their feelings.

The problem is, the process can be exhausting for the listener, especially if you prefer introversion like my friend Kathleen. An introverted parent alone can never meet the needs of an intense, extroverted child She'll wear you down to a nub. Your extroverted child needs you to let her talk, and it's important that you do listen to her, but you can also teach her how to express herself without wearing you out.

After our conversation Kathleen and Courtney came up with a plan Kathleen explained to Courtney that she was an extrovert who needed to talk about her feelings, especially when she was upset. Reassuring Courtney that she loved how willing Courtney was to share her news o the day, Kathleen also explained that she herself was an introvert who became drained by constant conversation. "I can listen for a while," she said, "but then I get worn out. When I get exhausted, I want to yell at you. But you don't need me to yell at you. That would upset both of us. The problem is, I'm out of listening energy, but you're not done talking.

Next time you are upset, you can count on me for about twenty minutes of listening. Then I need a break. We can have a plan that when that happens you can call your dad, speak to a friend, or go exercise. If you don't want to exercise alone, I'll sit by you while you ride the exercise bike, but I can't talk."

Their plan worked because it included strategies that met Courtney's need to talk. It also respected Kathleen's needs. Thanks to their plan, Courtney understood that her mother loved and understood her, and that when her mom needed quiet, she wasn't breaking off. She simply was out of listening energy.

If your extroverted child is exhausting you, help her understand her need to talk, but know it's all right to set some limits that teach her to be respectful of your feelings, too. Let her know that you're good for ten questions, but then you need a break. Or that you'll listen for ten minutes; then set the timer for five minutes of silence.

If you are an introvert, involve your child in extracurricular activities and encourage him to visit friends at their homes. There's no way you can match your extroverted child's need for interaction. Allowing yourself to honor your limits keeps you connected and out of power struggles.

As you listen to your extroverted child, it's important to remember she is "thinking" out loud. Which means she may say things that "come to mind" but do not reflect her true feelings or final decision. As you listen to her ideas, you might be inclined to think, What will happen if she does that? It's important to remember she is only exploring thoughts, not making a decision. That's why when she explodes and declares, "I hate you," or "You can't make me," or "That's stupid," instead of immediately getting angry, stop and calmly ask her, "Is that really what you wanted to say?" Odds are she'll give you a sheepish grin and admit, "Not really." Allowing your extrovert the time to simply "hear" herself and not making judgments about what she is saying allows her to son out those feelings. Later, when everyone is calm, you can teach her how to assert herself without being disrespectful or hurtful to others. We'll discuss that in a later chapter.

Extroverts also want your feedback – usually immediately – that their ideas and feelings are valid. A simple nod in agreement or "ah-ha" may be all that's necessary, but they do want to know that you are listening! It's learning how to express themselves without interrupting or intruding upon others that is their challenge. So when your little extrovert grabs your face and turns it toward her, you can say, "Stop, that hurts my cheek. If you want my attention, you can say 'Mommy please listen.'" If your child interrupts, you can create signals, like a hand on her shoulder that means, I heard you, and I'll give you my full attention in one minute.

As you work with your extrovert, remember she isn't talking to drive you wild – she's thinking and recharging. It's your task as her emotion coach to listen well and at the same time teach her the social skills she needs to work with others instead of overwhelming them.


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.

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