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:
- Give her the time that she needs to play on her own.
- Provide her with an opportunity to release emotions (journaling, drawing, art, free play).
- Never put her in a large group if I expect her to contribute.
- 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.”