One trait we can nail down for sure, though, is that Kiki is an introvert, just like her parents. We both took a special version of a Myers-Briggs type personality test that was designed for parents to answer questions about their kids, and we both got the same results for Kiki: ITP, which stands for Introvert, Thinking, Perceiving. For teens and adults who take the test, there’s an addition letter for preferences that are still in the formative stage for young kids (intuiting/sensing).
Other signs that she’s an introvert: Even when playing in groups, she tends to go off on her own. She gets flustered when she feels like she’s on the spot (“I’m thinking!”). Her teacher told me that she prefers to work independently rather than with a group.
Being pretty comfortable with that assessment, I used it as an excuse to pick up a book I’d been eyeing for awhile: “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. As someone who tends to fade into the background in groups, I was drawn by the title and the blurb on the back. I also saw that there was a chapter of the book dedicated to empowering introverted children.
So much of this book resonated with me, both for myself and on Kiki’s behalf. ALL of her teachers since preschool have told me at least once, “She needs to speak up more,” or “I wish she would raise her hand and talk more often.” Her first preschool teachers actually thought she might have developmental delay issues because she was so quiet and solitary in class. If they heard her chattering away at home, that never would have crossed their minds.
For my part, I remember classes in high school and college where participating in discussions determined part of your grade. This was probably the most stressful part of classes for me, since I could never thinking of anything good to say on the fly. Even today, I am much better with written communication (when I have a backspace key at my disposal) than I am in person. For example, I was on Kiki’s school PTO board for a couple of years and attended lots of meetings, where I tended to hang in the background unless I was directly addressed. Even then, it was a struggle to make sense of my thoughts on the fly. After the meetings, however, I could write lengthy e-mails (my fellow board members can attest to that) that explained things as I saw them and stated my opinions in what I think was a reasonable way.
In some ways, I still see my inability to express myself on the fly as a personal failing. It makes me feel like I’m less intelligent, even less worthy, than people who can be social and express themselves well in any situation. And society’s “put yourself out there” attitude generally supports that view. I’ve spent a lot of time castigating myself and have deliberately tried to put myself in positions that would force me to be more outgoing and more assertive. And I end up being miserable and feeling like I’m not living up to the task.
It’s only recently that I’ve come to see that I still have something to contribute, even if I have to do so after a lot of deliberation and research. This book has solidified that belief and definitely makes me feel better about who I am.
It’s not a perfect book, though. Not long after finishing it, I mentioned it to a friend (a fellow introvert) and talked about how it resonated with me – for me and for Kiki. After reading it, she pointed out how the author seems to spend a lot of time empowering introverts at the expense of extroverts, pointing out the studies that say extroverts are more likely to gamble, cheat on their spouses, etc. My friend also admits that this stood out for her this partly because her daughter is an extrovert, and she’s feeling defensive on her behalf.
Thinking back, I remember wondering if there are studies that do the opposite – put introverts in a bad light. Obviously, they wouldn’t support this book’s purpose so the author would have no reason to use them. But the fact that I had that thought tells me I noticed the bias. I’m sure the author isn’t saying that all extroverts are cheating egomaniacs any more than anyone would say that all introverts are misanthropic, self-centered hermits. But if she’s trying to get extroverts to understand us quiet ones, maybe she should do a little less contrasting.
Introvert and extrovert – they aren’t black and white. The author does point this out, and talks about how some people are shy extroverts while others are assertive introverts. And she shows how groups work best by accommodating the full range – giving introverts the time and space to work on their own before bringing everyone together to hammer out a plan, rather than relying on a spontaneous brainstorm session – both in a corporate and a school setting.
As far as schooling goes, this book goes a long way toward confirming my hunch that Kiki will thrive more outside of the traditional classroom. Outside of those boundaries, she’ll get the time and space to figure out what lights her fire – and then the tools to keep it going. She’ll learn it’s OK to be quiet, to take the time you need to think, to be alone sometimes and to just be yourself.
And she will also learn that the most important personal qualities – compassion, honesty, loyalty, kindness, generosity – are things you can have no matter where you fall on the introvert/extrovert scale.