Wednesday, June 26, 2013

on cobblers and generals

note: i started this blog entry ages ago.  i recently rediscovered it as i sort through unfinished writing.  seems as good a time as any to get it done.)

chapter 11 of susan cain's book quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking focuses on children.  i have thoroughly enjoyed the entire book, which i completed reading earlier this year, taking turns with diana, but this chapter in particular is a valuable resource to me as i strive to seek out and provide meaningful opportunities for my own children.

i read a lot of books.  i don't write a lot about books, though, and steve wondered aloud why i wanted to acknowledge this one in particular.  after all, i was somewhat knowledgeable already about introversion and extroversion through my educational background and work experience, so this book didn't really present new information to me.  but the author succeeded in connecting what i knew academically to what i was feeling personally.  maybe it's the personal anecdotes; maybe it's her storytelling style (that would not surprise me, given diana's predilection for certain kinds of writing and her avid fascination for this book); maybe it's the way the author effectively conveys that introverts are not inferior or superior to extroverts, just different - worthy of consideration instead of dismissal and appreciation instead of conversion.  she reinforces what diana has come to learn about herself, what i am still discovering about ander, and, now, what i am finding as we transition to a new place and new people.

i think it's a wonderfully illustrative chapter for all adults who have any interaction with children, or those who have opinions in any way, shape, or form regarding children.  whether one is a parent, teacher, caregiver, extended family member, coach, health care provider; whether you self-identify as an introvert or extrovert; this chapter and its reflections and practical suggestions are illuminating and compassionate and spot-on regarding the quiet ones.

some of the gems in "how to cultivate quiet kids in a world that can't hear them" are especially important for people who don't really get introversion or are mistaken about what it is or what they need to do about it.

"One of the best things you can do for an introverted child is to work with him on his reaction to novelty.  Remember that introverts react not only to new people, but also to new places and events.  So don't mistake your child's caution in new situations for an inability to relate to others...Introverts are just as likely as the next kid to seek others' company, though often in smaller doses."
"The key is to expose your child gradually to new situations and people - taking care to respect his limits, even when they seem extreme.  This produces more-confident kids than either overprotection or pushing too hard."
"If you want your child to learn these skills, don't let her hear you call her 'shy': she'll believe the label and experience her nervousness as a fixed trait rather than an emotion she can control.  She also knows full well that 'shy' is a negative word in our society.  Above all, do not shame her for her shyness."
"If your child prefers to work autonomously and socialize one-on-one, there's nothing wrong with her; she just happens not to fit the prevailing model.  The purpose of school should be to prepare kids for the rest of their lives, but too often what kids need to be prepared for is surviving the school day itself."

"Don't think of introversion as something that needs to be cured...We think about introverted kids as having a different learning style."

"Introverts often have one or two deep interests that are not necessarily shared by their peers.  Sometimes they are made to feel freaky for the force of these passions, when in fact studies show that this sort of intensity is a prerequisite to talent development."

"Some collaborative work is fine for introverts, even beneficial.  But it should take place in small groups - pairs or threesomes - and carefully structured so that each child knows her role."
"...try not to worry if all signs suggest that your introverted child is not the most popular kid at school.  It's critically important for his emotional and social development that he have one or two solid friendships, child development experts tell us, but being popular isn't necessary.  Many introverted kids grow up to have excellent social skills, although they tend to join groups in their own way - waiting a while before they plunge in, or participating only for short periods.  That's OK."

"...introverts often stick with their enthusiasms.  This gives them a major advantage as they grow, because true self-esteem comes from competence, not the other way around...Well-developed talents and interests can be a great source of confidence for your child, no matter how different he might feel from his peers."

"...let your child take the lead in picking the activities he likes best.  He may not like any team sports, and that's OK.  Help him look for activities where he'll meet other kids, but also have plenty of his own space.  Cultivate the strengths of his disposition.  If his passions seem too solitary for your taste, remember that even solo activities like painting, engineering, or creative writing can lead to communities of fellow enthusiasts."
in rereading the selections i pulled out, it strikes me that a lot of these suggestions/recommendations apply not just to introverted individuals, but also to those who are identified as gifted, exceptional, or having other special needs.  such children are not broken or destined for failure because they don't fit a general model.  they are atypical, out of the ordinary, unexpected.  all kids have needs; i believe it is our responsibility, as their guiding and nurturing adults and as fellow human beings, to help them identify those needs and discover - or create - experiences to address those needs.

so how do i (try to) do this for me and mine?  this requires daily practice of a particular mindfulness, almost like dealing with a life-affecting condition.  among other things, be prepared.  be patient.  take little steps.  introduce novelty within the context of the known and the security of the predictable.  recognize and celebrate the effort it takes to achieve successes that others may not see.  build time into the day, week, month, year for doing our own thing, whatever that thing may be.  appreciate growth when and where it happens.  offer solace instead of shaming.  ask for, rather than assume, preferences.  be open to, but not dependent upon, change.  say yes more often than no.  view our choices as doing what works for us.  learn and appreciate and live our stories of who and what we are.

note: in our emailed introductions to various groups here, especially homeschooling ones, i identified our family as "introverts with varying levels of social competence and comfort."  some people might not believe that about me, as i have tried very hard - and apparently have been successful at - projecting confidence when interacting with others.  please understand, my new acquaintances, that, no, i am not always chipper and talkative, but i play a person like that on tv. ;)

1 comment:

  1. i love this so much, and i think that thoughtful mindfulness should really be applied to *all* children, even extroverts! there’s a kind of general attitude that most children need to change — that they’re not okay as they are — that they should just adapt to what’s offered. and that applies to the kids who are on either side of the center of the bell curve. i wish every parent (and teacher) would look at their children as deserving of this generous attitude and perspective. <3