The "Silent Treatment" vs. the Talking Machine: Understanding Introverts and Extroverts
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"I'm worried about my child," Angela lamented. "She rarely if ever chooses to play alone. Even if she's been with other kids all day, the moment they go home, she exclaims, 'I'm bored!' And then she tries to get me to play with her. I will for a while, but I've got other things to do. Is there any way I can get this kid to play by herself?" "Yeah," Diane agreed, "and how can you get them to work alone? I tell Zach to clean his room, but he always ends up handing me stuff or wanting me to work with him, and we end up fighting."
Extroverts seem to need lots of your attention because they are at their best when working and interacting with others. If you want to win their cooperation, instead of fighting their nature by pushing them to work alone, work with them. Together you can clean their room and then yours. You'll get the rooms cleaned faster, more effectively and with much less aggravation. And when it comes to homework, instead of sending them off to their room, let them work at the dining room table while you work nearby.
Understand that extroverts can be very independent, they simply think and feel best when interacting with others. Sign them up for group activities, plan social outings with them, and respect their need to be with others. This doesn't mean, however, that extroverts can't ever play or work alone. They can. Your task is to get them started by working with their preferred style. That means helping them select an active, hands-on kind of activity such as playing with building blocks, construction toys, or art materials. Sit down with them and get them going. Once they are engaged, you can pull out and let them work on their own. If you can, work by them and be ready to stop what you're doing to give them the feedback they need. Know that when they are finished they'll need your attention again because they'll have been drained by their time alone. Older kids will gradually learn to work alone for more extended periods of time, but it's always at a cost to them. They're drained by that time alone.
Know, too, that extroverts learn best when they can get their hands on things and try them. Long lectures or lengthy verbal directions can drive them wild.
3. Coaching the Extroverts When They Need Questions to Help Them Think
Extroverted kids will often ask you for help and then reject your advice. This process can be infuriating, at least it was to Debbie. "My daughter Jessica would ask me to help her decide what to wear," she told us in class one day. "But then she wouldn't like any of my suggestions. She'd negate every single one of them. I swore she was just trying to pick a fight with me!"
But then as we talked about extroverts in class, Debbie realized we were describing her daughter. "That's her!" she exclaimed. "Jessica is always thinking out loud. When she was little and I took her on stroller rides, she'd carry on a running monologue. There's the house with the green shutters. Oh, and there's the big dog!' Every thought that came to her mind came out of her mouth. Suddenly the insight struck me. She's asking for my help, and I'm thinking that means she wants me to make the decision. But what she really needs me to do is help her talk through her decision. So instead of offering suggestions I started asking questions like: 'Do you feel like wearing something cool or warm? Does the outfit need to be layered or not? DO you want something baggy and loose or more close fitting? Are you thinking of bright colors or black and white?' When I asked questions, her intensity dropped. She could hear me, then she started thinking and made her own decision."
In order to avoid those power struggles in the first place, you can teach your extroverted child to say, "I'm having trouble deciding, I need to hear myself think. ..." Or "Please ask me questions so I can think better." Her clear communication will keep both of you from becoming frustrated. If your child doesn't tell you what she needs, you may have to ask, "Would you like me to ask you questions to help you decide?" Or, "Would you like me to make suggestions?" If your child is just a toddler, you'll have to try offering suggestions and asking questions; then decide which strategy seems to be working best.
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.