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How to Nurture Your Introverted Child at Family Gatherings

Photograph by Twenty20

I was blessed to marry into a family full of extroverts. This makes for lively and exciting holiday gatherings every year. So much so that sometimes I feel like I've stepped right into the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."

As awesome as it is, at times it can be a little overwhelming for an introvert such as myself. In the beginning, I would find myself slinking off to a quieter room when things got a little loud. After a few years, I got used to being one of the most introverted people at the party, but it turns out that now there is another person even more introverted than I am: my two-year-old daughter.

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She's been a hard-core introvert from the very beginning. At Thanksgiving dinner, she spent a good amount of time hiding her face in my shoulder or my husband's, but this is no surprise since she has always taken quite a while to warm up to new people. And I get it, because I feel the same way sometimes. Even though it would be socially unacceptable for me to bury my face in my husband's shirt at this point, there are definitely times when I'd like to.

Some people just take a little longer to get comfortable in social situations. And that's totally okay! There are a few things that parents of introverted children can do to help make these situations a little more comfortable and healthy for their child.

The fact is that being introverted is not a fault or a flaw. It's not a situation to be remedied.

Show Them Respect

Yeah, it's really uncomfortable for all involved when your child refuses to engage with a close friend or relative. It may feel like your little one "owes" her loving relatives a kiss and hug upon arrival. But what are we teaching our children if we force them to engage in loving behavior that they do not actually feel (yet)? We want to be very careful not to teach our kids that they are obligated to do things that make them uncomfortable just because an adult says so. Surely you can see that this is a slippery slope.

Navigating the situation becomes a little bit easier when you look at your child as an autonomous being. An individual who has every right to engage, or not, when they are ready. Prying them away from your leg and forcing them to say hello does nothing to alleviate their fears, and in fact only shows them that you aren't on their side either. Let them say no.

Stay Close

Even if your budding introvert ventures out into the group and decides to start talking or playing with others, keep an eye on them. It's so comforting for your child to know that you're close if they start to feel uncomfortable. You'll notice that even as your child starts to engage and have fun, she'll glance around and make sure that you are nearby frequently. That's good. She knows that you're here when she needs you, which makes her capable of venturing further and further away.

RELATED: How to Survive Parenthood As an Introvert

You're a Parent First

Be prepared for the possibility that other people may not understand why you are parenting your child the way that you are. They may think that you are coddling or making the situation "worse." The fact is that being introverted is not a fault or a flaw. It's not a situation to be remedied. Your child is doing nothing wrong by taking her time to warm up to a new situation or person.

Your job is to be the best parent that you can be, and sometimes that means putting your child's needs above your own need to please your other relatives. If you must, excuse yourselves from the group by saying "we are going to go take a quick breather." Don't belittle your child by dismissing her behavior as "just shy," and avoid labeling your little one in any way. Yes, she may have some shy tendencies, but it's best to let her personality develop over time instead of assigning labels to her that she may later outgrow but the family may not forget.

But most of all? Relax and enjoy. Your little one is starting to form a personality and is finding a way to express her likes and dislikes. You are in the unique position to understand what she's communicating better than anyone else. Let her know that she's understood and that her voice matters. Because she's a person, and it does.

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