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Teaching My Extroverted Kids How to Be Introverts

My three kids are extroverts. On a scale of 1 to 10 they rank a 26. They have entire conversations with complete strangers in the grocery store. I can leave them with a different babysitter every day and they will never have separation anxiety. They make friends with kids in public play areas and expect to have play dates with them a week later.

They love people.

If you were to document their day, I would imagine 80% of it is spent interacting with others. I can’t speak for my older son while he’s in school, but I can tell you that when my two four-year-olds are home they are together. It never occurs to them to play separately. They might literally be biting and pulling each other’s hair out because they hate each other so much in that moment, but they would still rather play in the same room with each other than play alone somewhere else.

And so, as summer has begun and the days are becoming longer, I am already noticing that they are growing tired of each other. I can hardly blame my twins. If I had spent every waking moment with someone for the past 4 and a half years of my life I think I’d be a little sick of them too.

As I began to notice the noise level slowly increasing in our house, my inner-introvert was begging for sanity.

“Why don’t these kids ever just sit down and read a book?”

“Do they even KNOW how to play by themselves?”

And that’s when I realized, maybe they don’t. I will say that my older son does. And once in a while, he will sneak off to our designated craft space and draw. This lasts about 10 minutes before one of the younger siblings discovers him and wants to color as well and then a fight breaks out over the yellow crayon.

The twins have always had each other to play with. Their life is one long play date. When my son started school, they still had each other. When they were toddlers, out of convenience, I always had them playing in the same room so I could watch them. Now that they are actually old enough to play in a room without me watching their every move, it rarely occurs to them to separate.

And that’s when I decided that twice a day, for 30 minutes increments, we were going to have mandatory introverted time. We have three floors in our house and three kids. Perfect. I mapped out some ground rules:

  1. You must stay on your designated floor for the entire 30 minutes. We have a bathroom on every floor so there are no excuses.
  2. Pick activities you can manage yourself. No asking Mom or the babysitter for help. While this sounds like I’m promoting independence, I’m actually trying to eliminate the loophole my children have discovered that is asking for help and getting a chance to interact with people.
  3. If you stay on your designated floor for your entire time you will get a prize. This is pretty self-explanatory.

We are only in the trial phase of this experiment as school has only recently ended. It takes about 10 minutes for them to get settled but once they are the next 30-40 minutes (a perk of children who can’t tell time) are wonderful. The house is beyond quiet. Well it’s not actually silent because all three kids still insist on talking to themselves while playing alone, but the decibel level decreases at least by at least 80%. At first my husband, the extreme extrovert from whom they get their social tendencies, thought I was crazy but even he can’t argue with the peace this time creates in our house.

My hope is that by the end of the summer they might actually choose to play by themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I love that they are so outgoing. I love that can hold conversations with everyone around them. But I also want to give them the skills to be alone. I want to teach them how to get lost in a book. I want them to explore their own imagination instead of playing off someone else’s idea. I want them to be able to express their creativity by coloring and drawing what’s in their heart.

Do they beg for quiet time?

No.

Will they ever?

Maybe not.

If they learn nothing else from this summer experiment, my hope is that they will learn that playing alone is not miserable but can actually be just as fun.

Okay maybe that last part is pushing it, but a girl can dream, can’t she?