*A while back in clinic a nine-year-old’s mom came in concerned about her son. Turns out that at the parent-teacher conference, her son’s teacher had said, “Your son is very quiet in school.” Even though her child was excelling academically, had great behavior, and truly enjoyed going to school, this statement stayed with his mom. She worried about it. Because in American society, being quiet, or “shy”, is not often seen as a positive quality. I hope that will change.
Here’s the thing, being quiet is actually okay. In some situations, it might even be better. And, that’s why I hope parents and teachers will read Susan Cain’s excellent book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”
First, a disclosure. I trend toward the introvert side on the Meyer’s-Briggs scale (INFJ for the MB aficionados), although this seems to be moving a bit towards the middle as I get older. I love being with people and greatly value my relationships. I enjoy public speaking. But I also need time alone and tend to process internally. In large groups I tend to listen more than I talk. I may sometimes appear quiet. But, my mind is engaged. . . I don’t feel quiet.
That’s why I really appreciate Susan Cain’s approach. She takes time to point out all of the amazing thinkers and leaders who were/are introverts- people like Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Frederic Chopin, Steven Spielberg, and Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss). She outlines leadership situations in which an introvert’s approach can actually be very effective. She convincingly posits that original ideas or truly creative work often require quiet to be born. She does all of this without devaluing the benefits that extroversion bring to our society. She essentially asks us to allow our friends, colleagues, and kids to be comfortable in their skin and value them, regardless of whether they are an introvert or extrovert.
With regard to quiet or introverted children, she implores parents,“Don’t just accept your child for who she is; treasure her” and asks educators to “balance teaching methods to serve all the kids in your class.”
Cain encourages us not to see quietness alone as a sign that something is “wrong” with a child. Of course, being quiet occasionally can be a sign that a child is afraid, sad, or simply not engaged, and kids in these situations truly need their parents’ and teachers’ understanding and help. This is quite different from a child who is engaged and thriving, but may prefer to work mostly independently. Or, a toddler who loves to explore at daycare, but may not be the first one to speak up during circle time.
I highly encourage giving this book a closer look. It’s a valuable read for anyone, regardless of where you fall out on the introversion/extroversion spectrum. I found it to be a compelling reminder of the important contributions that we all can make in our families, schools, and workplaces, whether we are quiet, or not.
Susan Cain also gave a great Ted talk that is a nice introduction to her work.
*This anecdote is a composite of interactions with a number of families. Details have been changed to protect privacy.