“Hi, son. Did you make any new friends today?”
“Have you seen any nice kids you want to invite over to visit?”
“What are you going to do this weekend?”
“I dunno … hang out at home, I guess.”
Tom is frustrated. His family moved into a new home and neighborhood months ago. By now, he expected his quiet, yet very friendly, son would have some friends. Instead, Micah seems stuck in neutral. “He’s always been shy,” Tom thinks to himself, “but this is ridiculous. Not only does it seem as if he isn’t trying, he doesn’t even to seem to care that he doesn’t have any friends!”
Ten-year-old Micah, however, sees his situation very differently. He misses his old friends a lot, and he wants to make new ones eventually. But first, he is focused on getting used to his new house, new neighborhood and new school. Moving from the West Coast to the East is a big change, and there is a lot he is still getting used to!
When it comes to making friends, Micah feels okay about himself. He got along great with his old friends and he is pretty sure he’ll eventually make some new friends here, too. He just prefers to take his time. “What’s the big rush?” he thinks to himself every time his dad bugs him with, “C’mon Micah, you just need to get out there and start making friends!” Tom isn’t trying to give his son a hard time, of course, but he is starting to worry. “It doesn’t seem normal,” he frets. “When I was his age, I always wanted to be with my friends.”
It’s ok to be an introvert
Tom needn’t worry, however. Scientists estimate that between 25 and 50 percent of the population are introverts, people born with temperaments that are more focused on internal feelings than on external stimulation. Introverts can be as happy and successful in life as their more social counterparts, the extroverts. And introverts are not necessarily lonely. They enjoy their friendships, but they often have their own distinctive approach to making and keeping friends.
The more parents understand how introverted children approach friends and friendship, the more helpful they can be to them. Introverts, for instance, tend to feel awkward around people who are new to them. It takes time for them to feel comfortable and safe being themselves. This can be a challenge for a child like Micah when entering a new neighborhood or school where many kids already know each other. Introverts, who also tend to be quiet and reserved, may unknowingly make it difficult for new acquaintances to see them as people who are friendly.
Encourage friendliness skills
Parents like Tom can use this time to encourage their children to practice – and even expand upon – their friendliness skills. For example, Tom can let Micah know when he notices and appreciates his friendly behaviors: “Hey, Micah, that kid seemed to really appreciate it when you laughed at his joke and told him it was ‘really funny.’ That was a good way to show that you like to joke around, too.” Tom can also suggest some new friendliness skills Micah can add to his repertoire: “I know you’d rather read your new book than play soccer, but when the ball gets kicked your way, it might be a nice gesture to kick it back to the players. The other kids would probably appreciate that. What do you think?”
As a child who knows how to be a friend and who likes to have friends, Micah is in a good position to develop new friendships before long. The more his father offers his son encouragement, rather than pressuring him, the more likely it is that Micah will develop a level of comfort and social confidence in his new neighborhood and new school. The ideas below will give you even more ideas about how to inspire and encourage your introverted child to make and enjoy friends, as well.
Tips for Encouraging Introverted Children
- Don’t Push. Most children resist feeling pressured, even when they are being pressured to “make lots of friends!” If your son prefers to go slow, don’t rush him, but use the following ideas to encourage him.
- Express Interest. Introverts are often excellent observers, so encourage your child to share what he or she is learning about the other children. “What do the other kids talk about? What games do they play at recess? Who else seems to like horses the way you do?”
- Notice friendly behavior.
Use encouragement to reinforce your child’s friendly interactions with other children. “I noticed the smile and wave you gave to the kid next door this morning. He seemed to appreciate your friendliness, too!” or “I know you really like that girl’s colorful socks. I bet she would like it if you told her so. What do you think?” If your child is hesitant, brainstorm some new ideas and offer opportunities to practice.
- Encourage Small Steps. If your son is hesitant to talk to new kids, suggest he first start with friendly smiles. If your daughter resists inviting a new child to your home for a play date or a sleepover, suggest smaller (and easier) get-togethers.
- Widen the field. Are the other fifth-graders all into soccer and video games, but your son is mad about graphic novels? He may find more potential friends in cartooning art classes or a Manga fan club at your local library.
- Invite others to help.
Young introverts often enjoy being taken under the wing of extroverts who are happy to help. Ask your neighbors and your child’s teachers if there is someone who might be willing to be your child’s buddy and introduce him to his own friendship circles. Ten-year-olds who think it’s ‘weird’ for dads and moms to find friends for them, will readily accept the same help from their peers.