Introverted Is Not Shy

It was well over 7 years ago when I sat in the school office and took part in a meeting that was not only pertinent at the time but would become one of those “aha!” moments in my teaching career.

There was a student in the school who was rather quiet and, although well liked by her peers, she was often by herself. Her parents came in for a meeting with her teacher, the principal and me (I was the school counselor at the time). When they arrived they shared their concerns and requested some assistance in helping their daughter make friends. They did not like that she was often alone and when she was with others it was always the same people. She seemed to be somewhat uncomfortable with groups of more than three.

The teacher immediately sympathized with the parents and offered to assist with this in the classroom by providing more opportunity for group play and work. I started racking my brain thinking of ways I could help this little girl feel more at ease with her peers because, after al,l don’t all kids love to be with lots of other kids, playing, and… well… for lack of a better term: “being kids”? My principal, at the time, stopped and looked at everyone and said she failed to see the problem. She went on to discuss how it is adults who immediately think there is something that needs to be done when children are quiet and prefer to work and play on their own. She went on to ask us all: “If the child does not have a problem with it, why does everyone else?”

We all stopped and looked at my principal, but none of us had much of an answer for her. After a lengthy discussion, we left the meeting, and I think everyone was satisfied with the outcome. I started observing *Mallory after that. There were times when she played with 2 of the girls in her class and there were many times where she played on her own. The key was, though, that she PLAYED on her own. She was not sitting and watching others; she was fully involved in something that completely interested her. She was never unhappy when playing on her own and was not looking to find another student to join her. Mallory was, by definition, an introvert. She actually seemed more energized after spending some time on her own; she did not like having any sort of small talk with people she vaguely knew, and her emotions were not always easy to read.

I started to do some reading, I thoroughly enjoyed the books written by Susan Cain and found some great things to do to meet Mallory’s needs:

  1. Give her the time that she needs to play on her own.
  2. Provide her with an opportunity to release emotions (journaling, drawing, art, free play).
  3. Never put her in a large group if I expect her to contribute.
  4. Whenever necessary, be the connector between the child and the friend, help out when necessary.

Mallory taught me so much that year. I learned to step back and observe for longer periods of time, to truly understand that there are children who are most in their element when playing on their own, and that those who are more reserved often have contributions that will knock my socks off.

Since I met and worked with Mallory I have had other introverted children in my own classroom. In fact, this year a parent started our individual meet and greet with “My family really does keep to themselves, we don’t socialize in large groups and my child does not fall far from the tree. I am a bit worried about how the large group environment will effect my child”. In my head I said a little thanks to Mallory as I felt much better equipped to say: “Not only do I think your child will be great, as a class we will embrace and respect the time your child needs to be alone and play quietly.”

I will leave you with something Susan Cain wrote that really sums up some of the children that we have all taught in our careers.

“Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is the preference for environments that are not over stimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.”


About Stacey Garrioch

I am a wife, mom to 2 boys and kindergarten teacher. I love the outdoors, exercise and play! View all posts by Stacey Garrioch

6 responses to “Introverted Is Not Shy

  • Chris Wejr

    Powerful reflection, Stacey. I remember having so many thoughts after watching Cain’s TED talk… how many times have I forced a child to be in a group when their best learning is done on their own? Yes, group work is a skill that is needed but it must be nurtured and taught – and some need more coaching than others (and as you have written, some people work better on their own and can share in different ways). How many times have I created a social group for a child that WE thought was unhappy about only having 1 friend and being alone for much of the day.

    Too often, we take a good thing (ie. collaboration/group work) and apply it as a good thing to EVERY child without considering the needs of the individual. If a class is very collaborative with rare amounts of time for ‘own time’, how does this benefit a child that is an introvert? A good reminder to provide options for kids (and adults).

    The other reminder I get from this is that we can all learn from introverts… we can all disconnect to reconnect with ourselves once in a while.

    Thanks for sharing such a powerful story!

    • Stacey Garrioch

      Thanks for the comment Chris! Susan Cain offers so much insight and I enjoyed her TED talk. As adults we often worry about the child who is on their own when in fact there are children who prefer this. It is so important for children (adults too) to be comfortable with who they are and for others to embrace their individuality, this child taught me that her comfort is not necessarily my comfort when viewing a child and she expanded my horizons. I am thankful for this.

  • Brendan Murphy (@dendari)

    We had a great discussion about this during #edcampchicago in February. Introverts tend to develop great listening skills and when asked can share insights many others can’t.
    They can also be great Servant-Leaders. Those who lead by consensus and example.

    • Stacey Garrioch

      I agree that there are so many things that an introvert has to offer to any scenario. Just like any student it is important to be aware and ensure that it is a safe learning environment and that the child has the oppertunity to share in his/her own unique way. Thanks for commenting.

  • John T. Spencer (@johntspencer)

    I have always been introverted, but rarely shy. It’s why I can run for two hours and be alone with my mind. It’s why I loved independent projects as a kid and grew tired from too much social interaction. I was very social. Indeed, I was loud. But I have always enjoyed solitude.

    • Stacey Garrioch

      Thanks for commenting John, introverted and shy are as different as night and day and I felt it was imporant to write about it even if it was many years after the meeting that inspired my post. I too love to run and I think it is because I can think and then clear my mind, time alone is never a bad thing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: