Some Kids are Just Quiet: Stop Assuming There’s Something Wrong With Introverts

The quiet, introspective child has a particularly tough time of it in schools today.

A quiet child who is introverted by nature should not be viewed with suspicion.They’re rarely seen for who they really are — young people who simply enjoy stillness and silence. While they’d much rather sit and read a book during recess, they’re encouraged to play with others, run around and otherwise act sociable. The reward for just being themselves is a suspicion that they are brooding types with a potential for repressed anger and other psychological issues.

There will always be children who prefer to turn their thoughts and ideas inward. We need to stop viewing this as a bad thing. Here’s how to do it:

Quit assuming quiet means trouble

The negative associations of quiet, inward students reflect the many times when silence and a lack of sociability were connected to violence in schools. Unfortunately, when safety-minded educators accept the “brooding loner” stereotype, the introverted child gets swept up in their concern.

The best thing to assume is that quiet is, well, just quiet. That makes it easier to work on forging personal connections with the introverts in your classroom. If you do that, you’ll soon find there are layers to these students that the world seldom sees.

Foster unique interests

Occasionally, children appear introverted because they have interests that school isn’t meeting. I remember students who would use lunchtime to sit and read comic books, draw or write short stories that they didn’t have time for after school.

As computer coding becomes more popular, schools can expect students to want to go to computer labs or work on their laptops during recess. Having as many options as possible for all children will draw everyone further into the life of the school.

Delight in the child

Sometimes a child is quiet because they don’t feel comfortable around adults. To overcome this, engage the child in light conversation and see what they like to do. You’ll be amazed at how quickly a child takes to an adult who respects them as a person and takes a genuine interest in what they like.

The need to be recognized and valued isn’t just the province of adults, and your small kindness and attention will go a long way to put introverted students at ease. Of course, the impact on this is compounded even more if they come from an unstable home.

Don’t put them on the spot

In a misguided effort to encourage more openness from quiet students, teachers often assign them a responsibility that requires them to stand in front of the class. The assumption is that “facing their fears” will enable a child to break the “habit” of being quiet. However, when a child is quiet and introverted because they have mild social nervousness, forcing them to do exactly what they don’t want to do is the wrong approach.

Instead, offer them a soft launch into being more active in the classroom. This could mean assigning them a simple task like making the morning announcements or giving a short speech to the class introducing the next activity. Regardless of the activity, the key is for the child to feel safe doing it.

We live in a busy, loud and action-oriented world. It’s not surprising that we tend to look at a child who isn’t this way as troubling. Yet we need to remember that all personality and emotional types will pass through our schools, and we have to make sure that we have room — and acceptance — for all of them.

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Brian P. Gatens is the superintendent of schools for the Emerson Public School District in Emerson, New Jersey. He has been an educator for more than two decades, working at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. In “From the Principal’s Office,” Gatens shares advice, provides insights, and gives guidance on everything from what principals look for when interviewing teaching candidates to how to work with overly protective parents. His front-line assessments supply candid perspectives on school life.

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