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The United States might be known as the melting pot of the world in terms of culture and ethnicity, but families put together different types of people in close quarters. Just because we’re born with similar genes and grow up in the same environment doesn’t mean all family members are alike.Take my family, for instance. My dad loved salad dressing and my mom preferred mayonnaise. My dad ate sandwiches on white bread, while my mother frowned at him and ate hers on wheat bread. The only good pickle for my dad was a sweet one and for my mom, you guessed it, only dill would do.
Enough about food choices because I could go on and on and that would be boring.
While it may be that some of the kids in my family preferred dill pickles to sweet, or wheat bread to white, that did not mean we aligned in personality traits with our father or mother. In all families, there is variety, as not everyone will be born an introvert or an extrovert. And yes, we’ve already established that introversion or extroversion is a personality expression children are born with. Environment and experiences shape children but his or her approach to the world from a holding back and processing or going gang-busters full steam ahead without much thinking is a natural tendency. Though in our culture it seems that people, parents included, want children to be outgoing and vivacious, if they are supported in whatever expression is in their nature, children don’t succeed or fail based on introversion or extroversion. Both expressions of personality have attributes and challenges, as Marti Olsen Laney, author of The Introvert Advantage, suggests.
“As parents we constantly shape the interplay between nature and nurture. The better you know how to read your children’s physical and emotional signals, the more you can help them cope with their own temperament, and the more they will be able to use their temperament for fulfilling and valuable lives.”
I was lucky, as early in my life my mom recognized my natural tendency to observe and reflect. I remember she asked me once when I was very young and we were riding in the car, “Why are you so quiet?” I heard her later tell one of her friends my answer, “She said she was just looking.” I picked up at my young age that she didn’t care that I wasn’t rattling on and on, that it was OK to be content just taking in the scenery. I doubt back then that my mom had any thought about my natural personality and how to best allow me to be myself. She was too busy making sure all her children behaved, did their chores, contributed to society. Socializing children is an important job for parents. But in that socializing, it’s important to be sensitive to a child’s personality in order to prevent him or her from feeling stigmatized as “shy” or “too quiet,” writes Laney.
“Remember, because of our strong cultural bias, many children feel pressured to be extroverted. We can all use our nondominate side, but by doing so we deplete our energy and end up twice as exhausted.”
Exhausted and unsupported can be the normal experience for a child who is pushed to talk more, jump into playing in unfamiliar settings, or perform on stage. Better parents recognize and acknowledge their child’s natural personality tendency and be fascinated by how he or she expresses it, suggests Irene Daria in an article for Parents magazine.
“Recognizing your child’s type will not only help you understand her behavior but also make you less likely to worry. For instance, if your child holds back at first … you’ll know that it’s simply her nature to observe initially and that she’ll join in when she’s ready. Because you can’t change your child’s personality, the best way to help her develop lasting self-esteem is to accept who she is.”
Remember that if a child is an introvert she is not incapable of socializing, it is more about how he or she gets energized and processes things. A good place to start understanding how to nurture a child’s personality is to understand your own and how it may influence your relationship with the child. Whether a child or an adult, we’re all people – complex human beings with many facets to learn about and appreciate and enjoy, mostly.