Raising an extravert

My oldest boy, Luke, is an extravert. An extravert of the highest order. I am an introvert, an off the charts introvert. This difference, between Luke and me, is becoming more of a challenge as Luke gets older.

Extraverts, by definition, draw their energy from others. They are energized being around others, they need others to fill up their tanks. It is how they re-charge. And when they don't get to feed off others they get crabby. They are always discussing and processing ideas and actions, even as they are occurring, like during a movie or while reading a story. Everyone in our family can tell you how difficult it is to watch a movie with Luke. He wants - well, needs - to discuss what he is watching as it is unfolding. Luke thinks by talking. His thoughts spill out of his mouth before he even knows exactly what he wants to say. Another characteristic of extraverts, that is so true for Luke, is the need for affirmation. Not just your standard "good job" will do. Extraverts need lots of accolades. It's not a matter of poor self esteem. It is simply part of how they "get" energy. Luke regularly seeks affirmation for everything from his school work to bouncing on his pogo stick to the way he organizes his room.

Introverts, on the other hand, get their energy when they spend time alone or with one or two people close to them. When feeling worn down they fill their tanks by retreating. And when they don't get alone time they get irritable. Introverts like to mull things over a bit before discussing them, their physical space is important to them, they prefer work without interruption, and they don't need a lot of affirmation. All these things rob them of their energy. And all these characteristics are 100% true for me.

So, you can see how this can be tough for Luke and me. I rarely get a moment to myself throughout the day. I rarely have an opportunity to refresh and re-energize until all the boys are in bed. And Luke. Well, he is talking before his feet hit the floor. And if he is not we all hear his feet hit the floor as he bounds out of bed in the morning. Whenever I do have an opportunity during the day to steal away for a moment Luke finds me. He simply doesn't understand why I would want to be alone. It just doesn't compute with him. When I reach my breaking point with Luke I often say really ineffective things like, "Luke, please, just stop talking for five minutes." This is like asking my neighbors dog to please stop barking. But that's another post. Not to mention that asking Luke to be quiet, be alone, or sit still, saps his "energy" and makes him surly and short tempered. On the other hand, when he is "filled up" he is much more able to spend some time alone.

I have been painfully aware, as of late, that I am constantly trying to quiet Luke, to tame him, to force him to think through his questions before he asks them, to make him enjoy being alone. While there is merit in these things in terms of helping Luke to be more flexible and thoughtful what I am really doing is trying to make him more like me. And Lord knows that is not what he needs! What he needs is my understanding of how he is wired - even if I, in my introversion, will never ever ever "get it." He needs me to help him find ways to get the energy he needs - it all can't come from me. I am bone dry a good portion of the day!

So that is what I am working on. Being more intentional about providing ways for Luke to get what he needs. School has been a huge outlet for Luke, he loves it. But what I am learning is that the highly structured environment of Luke's school is another energy sapper for him, so when his school day is done he is really looking for ways to re-fuel. And that point in the day, when Luke needs his re-fueling, is when I am wondering if I will even make it through dinner to bedtime.

So there you have it. The Tale of The Introvert and The Extravert. I know I am not alone in this, I would love to hear how all you other introverted mothers engage with your highly extraverted children. I better get the hang of it because Timothy is hot on Luke's heels.


My name is Sarah said...

This is Joyce. I so feel your pain. My husband, oldest son, and me are all introverted Capricorns ie: neat, orderly and quiet. Sarah joins us in this temprament. Then along came Matt. I swear he made friends in the nursery before we left the hospital at birth. Non-stop extrovert and not at all neat and orderly. For the first three or four years we were tearing our hair out. None of us wanted to be in the same room with him, really not even the same house. There were a few times our oldest asked if we could take him back.

In school if he had a teacher who understood him, he was great. But those who wanted him to sit and be quiet and non-social were difficult. Finally his second grade teacher put it into perspective for us: she said she was not worried about him, because if he were ever in an emergency situation, like the school on fire, he would have the entire class organized and out the door without harm because of his magnetic extroverted personality. From then on, I had a new way of looking at it.

Once he got to about 4th grade, I was able to have a conversation with him explaining our differences and that sometimes the rest of us just need quiet, alone time. He is pretty good with it now.

I also learned to just watch him in action rather than try to reel it in especially while we are in public. We will go to a totally new pool, and within 10 minutes he has new friends following him along. I really envy that. I would just sit on my lounge chair and read a book and never talk to a soul. There is something to be said for the extraverts of the world.

Good luck.

waldenhouse said...

Hi Joyce. Sounds like Matt and Luke are very much alike. I look forward to the day when I can explain our differences. This morning he woke at 5.30, came to our bedroom door calling "mom, mom, mom," in a loud whisper. He wanted to lay down in bed with us until time to get up. We said, yes, if he is quiet. Of course he wasn't - he was chattering away, to himself. All I could do was laugh!

I, too, enjoy watching Luke "in action" making friends. I need to take notes!

Spitmonkey said...

Holy smokes, I could have written this post practically word for word, Stacy. For a long time I thought (and sometimes maybe I still do) I was a bad mom for not wanting to spend every moment of the day with Sydney. I'd quietly duck away to check email or something and she would follow me like a baby duck with "Mom, can I have a banana? This play banana is not good. I will pick up my kitchen for a real banana..." and the like.

Like Luke, Syd loved school. I wish I could afford to put her in preschool, but for now we stick with play groups and the like for that interaction. I, on the other hand, find myself wanting to cancel out of meetups here and there because... well, I want to be alone for a bit. Sometimes I have to literally FORCE myself to go to some.

And, like you find yourself, I see me trying to squelch her natural behavior... which I am trying to change but feels so difficult. But I think unlike you and Luke there are times where I see myself in her - some things she does that I think, "What the...?" and then realize that is exactly what I would do if I were 3 years old.

I like the idea of talking to him about it - my guess is that he is a lot like Syd in that he understands things far better than we'd give him credit for. I am amazed at the things she really understands and tend to over-explain things.

So I guess we just hobble toward a better understanding of each other - one day at a time, right? ;-)

The making friends is fun to watch (because I am a "people watcher," always have been). But it does kind of freak me out because she will go up to a total stranger kid and say "Hi, my name is Sydney!" and give them a hug. The Overbearing Protector in me cringes when she does that. But the Nurturing Mom in me is so proud that she isn't afraid of kids (or adults, for that matter) and is willing to try to make friends.

Ahh, dilemma.

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