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Helping Your Introvert Child to Try a New Experience

Last summer I took my 3 yr. old to a birthday party. While all the other kids ran around and went up and down the slide, my daughter watched, and watched, and watched. At one point she moved closer to the side but would not go much farther without me by her side. 

I remember making the remark to one of the other moms there that Lil Bug observes, observes, observes, and then maybe she’ll participate. And then if she did participate it would be if there was no one in close proximity of her, other than myself. She did climb up the small ladder to the slide, but as another child came up behind her she decided she didn’t want to go down the slide. There were still too many people around her she was not as familiar with. After a year of growth, she’s a little quicker to act in between bouts of people. Yet, she still takes her time and observes more than participates.

I share this experience because I want you parents with highly sensitive and/or introvert children to know that you are not alone.

Before I realized my daughter was a highly sensitive introvert, I wondered if anyone else had a child who wouldn’t participate in activities because they preferred to watch. I wondered what those other parents did to help their child start to interact with the world. Even with family Lil Bug would take some time, every time, to warm up to them. Even the ones that live in town. She now runs to my sister, her aunt, when she sees her. But, a year ago, that was rare.

Even before this experience from last year, I came across www.quietrev.com and remembered the book that I had from Susan Cain (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking). I dived back into that book and read articles on quietrev.com. I also came across the Quiet Revolution's parenting class (not an affiliate of Quiet Rev) and took the class online. It was freeing. I finally realized that there were others similar to my child. The examples used in the class described my Lil Bug so well. I saw myself in the parents and felt I was not alone. That affirmation that I was not alone was the best thing that I gained from the class. In the class though there is also a great tool for determining when you should push your child to step outside of their comfort zone and the examples teach useful tips for helping your child. 

One of the things that really stood out to me was the Long Runway that Susan Cain talks about in the class. She also talks about it on her podcast. (Click here to check it out) It seems to me that it’s an introvert thing to observe, observe, observe and then take flight. I also realized that I do that myself. Before I start a new venture, I always learn, learn, learn, until my brain just can’t take any more learning and I finally have to take a leap of faith and do it. I soak in as much as I can until my brain is completely saturated and I either need to act or decide that it is not for me. 

It is an introvert’s strength to ponder deeply and learn before acting. In Cain's book "Quiet" there is a great chapter on how there are evolutionary reasons behind this ability to think before acting. So, know that you are not alone in raising a child who will observe, sometimes more than you would like, before acting, if acting at all. It is good to be cautious and it is good to ponder deeply.

But, there still needs to be a balance. Help your child (and yourself if you’re the same) to understand what that balance is for them. One key thing to know is that we can learn so much more when we apply what we’ve learned and we can also learn so much more through experience. The same is true for our children.

So, at some point we need to step out. We need to take a leap of faith. Learn and observe, yes, but then apply. If you can benefit from it then definitely do it. Face your fear. And help your child do the same.

There will come a point that you’ll need to push your child, just a bit, out of their comfort zone. Above all though, know your priorities and think if the situation is right for pushing your child to make a step forward. 

Here are a few tips for helping your child try new experiences:

1.  Understanding

The first thing is the understanding that it may take some time for your child to go down that runway. Understanding that helps you to have the patience to help your child. It also helps your child to know that they are loved and that you are there to help them should the need arise.

2.    Preparation

Prepare your child. Help them to understand what is coming. The more I know about a situation, the better prepared I feel to deal with the situation, the better positioned I am to enjoy a new situation. So, if you can, teach your child what to expect. If the situation turns out different from what was expected, it can be used as a teaching tool to help your child to adapt next time. Try to help them see similarities in the experiences they face to help them make sense of the world they live in.

3.    Practice

With my daughter, I’ve been working on trying to get her to talk to her friends at preschool and at church. She has done so only once, maybe twice. I was the same way when I was her age. I’ve started teaching her how to communicate, practicing saying hello and answering questions when asked. Something as simple to me, such as “How are you?” Is not simple to her. So, I’m teaching her how to respond depending on how she is feeling. If she ever doesn’t answer a question that I asked. I pause what it is that I am doing and what she is doing to have her answer. It’s a long process, or a “long runway.” But, she will now quietly say goodbye when we are about 15 feet away. A big step for her on the path to her flight. 

4.       Allow your child to experience new situations

Again, analyze the situation. Has your child had enough rest? Have they had a good balance of stimulation? Will it be too much or could they use the interaction? The better you know your child, the more you will be able to help them. The more they can feel understood by you. With that said, don’t always keep your child from new experiences just because you think it will be too much. Sometimes they need that extra stimulation. There is a desensitization that can occur as they become more familiar with the situations that they face often. It took a lot of experiences interacting with my sister before she felt comfortable enough to run to her when she saw her. I had to allow her to experience being around family, to learn who they are. But, we have to allow those situations to occur. It is all about finding the right balance of exposure and stimulation. 

5.       Trust your child 

With my daughter, if she is completely not ready for something, she will let me know. She pushes back way more than if she is open to the idea but still apprehensive. Balance your trust in your child with the importance of the situation. If the situation is important and your child doesn’t feel ready, be there with your child. Think of ways to help your child feel more at ease. One day my daughter didn’t want to go to preschool. She had been going for a couple of months, but for some reason on this particular day, she was resistant. On the way, she kept telling me “no, no, no.” So, I negotiated with her. I told her I would stay with her, just that day, but tomorrow I would be dropping her off. She was okay with that and agreed that the next day she would go without me staying. I went and at first she stayed right next to me, almost glued to my side. But, slowly as the time went on, I was able to move further away as she participated in the activities. The next day she went by herself and enjoyed it. 

6.    Build Your Child's Self Confidence

Sometimes our child's ability to take flight has to do with mindset. They need to believe in themselves. We need to believe in them. If we believe in the them, they begin to feel that themselves. They start to think that they can do it as well. It is through believing in ourselves that we don't give up and through that we fly.

Our children can only go so far in learning before acting. We all need to take that leap of faith in order to fly. There will be mistakes made, but a mistake is always something that we, and our children, can learn from. And we need to allow (sometimes push) our children to take that leap of faith as well.


  1. My daughter does exactly this and it is sometimes hard to know where the line is between encouraging and pushing. As she grows older, it is easier because she can communicate her feelings but I appreciate these tips!

    1. It can be hard at times to know. It can really be a trial and error at times. But, we learn from those experiences. I'm glad you appreciate the tips!


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