When our daughter was a toddler she was very outgoing and brave. She would talk to just about everyone and was not afraid to share her feelings. She had plenty of friends and did really well in school. I was so pleased because she seemed so very well rounded and she was thriving. But then things changed. Our daughter became what could be labelled as an introverted child.
Fifth Grade – Reserved and Wanted to be Alone
Then one day in the middle of the fifth grade I got a call from school that she was no longer playing at recess. She was sitting on the bench reading everyday. The teacher was concerned and so was I. When I confronted her about it she told me she was fine, she just wanted to read. That was all I could get out of her. She seemed fine at home and talked and acted just the same as always. But from that point forward she was reserved at school and no longer wanted to be a part of the groups.
Our girl was very intelligent and loved to read so I thought perhaps she had just gotten into a particularly good book. The only trouble she ever got in was reading her book while she was supposed to be studying. She would tell me she could read and listen and that the teacher was going over the information too slow for her. She knew the other kids needed to catch up but she got irritated that she could not read while they were doing it.
I looked into putting her in advanced classes but she told me that she did not want to go because the only thing advanced about it was that you had more work to do and she was content getting A’s and having time to read. That was my girl, she knew how the system worked and worked it out where she had time to read.
Middle School – Seemed Unhappy and Kept to Herself
Anyway, I let it go after that because the next year was Middle School and thought she would work things out. There was no more recess and there were a lot of new student because several grade schools came into the middle school. But she continued to be isolated and I did not understand. She seemed so unhappy but I could not get anything out of her.
I began thinking about her younger years and how outgoing she was. She was so happy and loving to everyone. She was still loving but did not seem happy at all. I recall many incidents when she did not share things with me because she did not want to worry me or make me unhappy.
One time she had a bad sore throat and I did not know it until I felt that she had a fever. When I got her to the doctor she had a rash on her stomach and I found out she had the beginning of Scarlet fever! I asked her why she did not tell me and she said she did not want to worry me! I made it perfectly clear to her that it was my job to take care of her and that I loved her deeply and that she should not keep those kinds of things from me!
We talked about counseling because I felt there was something wrong and she could not or would not share with me. Another incident in Middle School happened that really had me concerned one day. I came to pick her up and her sweater was torn and she was acting sheepish. I thought maybe someone had tried to hurt her but she assured me nothing was wrong and she was okay. I was not satisfied with the answer and I was at a loss of what to do for my precious girl.
Things were compounded because at home we were going through some marital problems. I thought perhaps she was upset by some tensions in the home. She also had a little brother that was seven years younger and he was always on the move and full of energy and was always trying to get into her things. She tried to mother him but he would have none of it!
Excelled In School But Disliked It
She excelled in school but disliked it intensely because she did not fit in. When I asked her about her old friends she told me that they had changed. The school she was going to was very large and crowded and she was small. She told me she had to put her books in front of her and plow through the crowds to get to her classes. I hated to see her so unhappy but when I asked her if she wanted to change schools she said no. She told me it would not be different anywhere else.
We did put her in counseling of course but since the counseling was between her and her counselor and she did not share much with me I still did not understand fully what was going on. She kept assuring me that everything was fine. It was not until years later that she was able to share some things with me about what was going on with her. And even though it was years later I was so relieved to hear what she had to say.
College – Nothing Changed But She Finally Shared How She Felt
She had gone off to college for her first year and when I asked her how she was doing she told me. “The same as I was at home mom, nothing has changed.” She thought perhaps getting away from home would make things different but she realized that she was the same person there and that it was not her environment.
We talked about the fifth grade and the torn sweater again and she was able to articulate some answers for me. She said in fifth grade things changed from one day to the next. She told me that the girls were playing with the boys and everyone was having fun one day and the next thing she knew the boys said the girls had cooties and would not play with them any longer. And the girls only wanted to talk about the boys and clothes, makeup, etc. She wanted to play with the boys and she had no idea what the girls were talking about so she just shut down. That was all there was to it.
She told me that she had accidentally ripped the sweater and thought I would be upset so she was acting weird. I was acting weird because I thought someone had tried to hurt her so we were playing off of each other!
The rest was easy; she was overwhelmed with trying to fit in socially. She wanted friends but she was raised in a Christian home and had high moral standards. And being the kind of child she was made everything even more black and white in her eyes. She could not tolerate any deviation in behavior when it came to drinking, drugs, and any other moral judgment. She was appalled that the majority of kids were swayed to follow the crowds. And the ones that were not following the crowds were still accepting the behavior of the others.
As I look back I realize now that she was probably always introverted but felt safe and secure so she was able to express herself. When the world got more complicated she retreated into herself and tried to create her own world but did not know how to express what was going on in her world.
I am sharing this so that if anyone finds themselves in the same position with a child they will not be unaware. If I just would have better understood what may have been going on in her mind I could have perhaps helped her through it. I was not like my girl and I did not have a clue what she was thinking or feeling. Introversion is not a disease but it is very difficult to understand if you are not one yourself.
Always curious, Ashley Hardway is constantly learning and passionate about sharing what she learns with others. Based in the Houston, Texas office of Morningside Nannies, she loves to help families grow stronger, help their environments and communities, and keep moving forward! Check out @NannyLady on Twitter to connect and find out more.
In an article on About.com Psychology titled What Is Introversion? by Kendra Cherry she writes, “Introverts tend to be more quiet, reserved and introspective. Unlike extraverts who gain energy from social interaction, introverts have to expend energy in social situations. After attending a party or spending time in a large group of people, introverts often feel a need to “recharge” by spending a period of time alone.”
Kendra Cherry lists the following introversion traits:
Common Introversion Traits
Introversion is marked by a number of different sub-traits:
- Very self-aware
- Enjoys understanding details
- Interested in self-knowledge and self-understanding
- Tends to keep emotions private
- Quiet and reserved in large groups or around unfamiliar people
- More sociable and gregarious around people they know well
- Learns well through observation