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

Coaching the Introvert
Working with your child's type is often like a dance – two steps forward, one back, pause, step again. The more familiar the steps, the easier to dance. When it comes to coaching introverts, it's important to understand they need space, time for reflection, and opportunities to watch or listen before participating.

Recently I experienced a "dance" with a child I'd never met before. I didn't have the faintest idea if he preferred introversion or extroversion, so I had to let his cues tell me which steps to try.

1. Coaching the Introverts When They Need Space – Physically, Verbally, and Visually
I was meeting with the director of a child-care center when suddenly two harried teachers arrived simultaneously at her door. Each had in hand a very angry child. "We need help," they exclaimed, and proceeded to leave the children with us while they returned to their classrooms. The director invited the two-year-old onto her lap and said to Thomas, the four-year-old, "This is my friend, Mary; she can help you." So there I was with a scowling, snorting four-year-old who'd never seen me before. I didn't have any idea what had happened to him or why he might be so angry. But angry he was. If looks could kill, I was dead. He stood just inside the door glaring at me.

The look on his face, the hunch in Ms shoulders, his arms wrapped tightly around his body, and a growl deep in his throat dearly told me, "I need space! Don't. touch me!" Ah, an introvert who doesn't like to be crowded and needs some time to think, I decided, and chose not to move from my chair. Instead, I said, "The look on your face tells me you don't want me to come near you." He growled in response. "And the sounds you're making tell me you'd rather I not talk with you, either." He growled louder. "Maybe you'd prefer I not even look at you." He growled once more. "All right," I responded. "I won't touch you or even look at you, I'll just sit here and when you'd like my attention you can tell me." I turned back to my work. I was not ignoring him. I was simply respecting his need for space and quiet at that moment, but clearly letting him know I was available.

Introverts will often pull away from interaction because they need space, time, and quiet to figure out what they are feeling and to pull themselves back together. They aren't deliberately shutting you out, they are recharging. So before you physically move into your child's space to give her a hug, or move in verbally by asking twenty questions, ask her if this is what she would like or read her cues. Even an infant will turn to you or raise her arms, letting you know that, yes, she would like you to come into her space. Or if she doesn't, she'll turn her head away and pull her arms back.

Introverts often get into trouble for doing things that "push" you and others out of their .space, like shouting, "Everyone be quiet!" Or they may hit, bite, or growl to clear the space out around them. If this happens, it's critical that you clearly enforce your standards, help them understand the emotion they are experiencing, and teach them what they can do. For example, if your child pushes another child out of her space, you can say, "Stop! You may not push. I think you are needing space. You can say, 'I need space!' But you may not push to get it."

Once 1 gave Thomas some space, he was more open to working with me; of course, he didn't tell me that with words. Shortly after I turned back to my work at the table, he started to kick at the wastebasket. "Stop, Thomas," I declared firmly. "No matter how angry you are, you may not kick the basket. If you're ready for my attention, you can tell me." He growled once more, the scowl still deep. But his arms were no longer crossed over his chest. His cues told me he was a bit more open. Remaining in my chair, physically out of his space, I stepped in verbally. "I'm wondering if something made you sad," I said. He nodded in agreement. Now I was really stuck.


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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