“Hi, I’m Laura, and I can do cartwheels. Look!”
That’s all it took for me to force other children to be friends with me—one smooth, cool, opening line… followed by a mediocre cartwheel. I’ve always been social—and loud to boot— ever since I was a child; one of those obnoxious kids that would stand on a picnic table at the playground and perform a five-minute rendition of “Part of Your World.” Suffice to say, I’m not shy. While I have tempered my ridiculous personality a bit to conform to social norms, I remain an extroverted and very social person, even as an adult.
Growing up, my less outgoing parents just shook their heads at this creature in their midst who loved friends and activities and attention. My mom and dad maintain a few close friendships but are not what one would call extroverted. My father has a great sense of humor, but it’s generally reserved for those he knows very well, and while my mother has several close friends, she’s not exactly showing off her cartwheels to meet new people. As introverts, they had to raise an extrovert. They figured it out. But I’m not sure they actually understood how I could be as social as I am, because it is not an inherent part of their personalities.
As such, I am now facing the opposite dilemma. My two-year-old is NOT a chip off this block when it comes to making friends. He absolutely loves his closest friends, enjoys time with them, and asks to play with them. But take him into a new environment with new kids? He’s playing on his own, until he gets comfortable and gets a lay of the land. In school, he is self-directed—he will join friends if and only if he enjoys the activity—not just because other people are doing it. I love (and envy!) his sense of self.
But I worry about him—and after some soul searching, I think it’s because I don’t understand him. When someone speaks to him, and he doesn’t speak back, I probe him to answer… because it seems so odd to me that he wouldn’t WANT to converse! People are great! Talking is fun! Let’s make friends! Afterward, I feel concerned that I’m forcing him too much—he’s not required to be open and talkative with everyone he meets just because I am.
But then I find myself worrying it will be hard for him to connect with people. I worry other kids will mistake his shyness for some other less attractive personality trait—like snobbery or rudeness. I worry he won’t be confident in his social skills since he doesn’t practice them as much. I just can’t imagine what it’s like to be an introvert.
But then I remember—when he plays alone, he isn’t necessarily LONELY. He enjoys alone time as well as playing with his close friends. He IS a chip of the old block with regards to my husband, who is also more reserved than me. And who’s to say my rendition of “Part of Your World” really qualifies as good social skills? Some might say my kid has a leg up in that department—maybe less is more? Perhaps he already plays the game better than his mama.
For now, I encourage him to communicate appropriately. If someone says hi, I prompt him to say hi in return. If he doesn’t, I try not to force it—my gut says it’s “rude” to not respond, and so I want him to be polite—but I must admit that I love that he has boundaries and doesn’t feel obligated to speak or play if he doesn’t feel comfortable. I want to respect his desires to be who he is but also foster appropriate social communication. It’s difficult walking that line sometimes. It’s also hard as a person who likes to fill silences—but I’m working on it. We take it one step at a time, one day at a time. My favorite people in the world are introverts—my parents, husband, and best friend—and so my baby boy is no exception. Maybe instead of worrying, I could learn a thing or two! Not everyone wants to see my mediocre cartwheels.