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My seven year-old son is extremely extroverted. My wife and I are both introverts, so we have a hard time relating to his behavior.

We have a quiet time every day for a couple hours, when my wife naps or takes a bath, my elder daughter takes a nap, and the other two kids can do pretty much what they want, subject to the following restrictions:

  • They have to be quiet enough not to wake anyone.
  • They can't go into each other's rooms.

The latter rule is all the time, not just at quiet time, and is mostly so my younger daughter can get some personal space when she needs it. She plays with her brother most of the day, but likes to use quiet time for her "introvert recharge" period, which means my son doesn't have anyone to play with during that time.

Yesterday, my daughter started screaming. Turns out, she had locked her door to keep her brother out, but he had used a comb to unlock it and was forcing his way in. He only has benign intent. He says he feels "lonely" and wants to play, and honestly doesn't understand why his sister wouldn't want to play too, despite the screaming.

Still, using force like that and completely ignoring his sister's screams gives his behavior a very creepy vibe. We have to remind him to leave his sister alone two or three times a day, which I don't find particularly unusual, but this is the first time he has gone so far as to ignore her locked door (to our knowledge), and it feels like he's not getting any better at taking a hint. He has grabbed her before to keep her from leaving.

First of all, for those of you who have experience with extroverted children or are extroverts yourselves, is this behavior normal for his age?

Second, this alone time is obviously very difficult for him, but it's important for the rest of the family. What can we do to help him endure it better?

Third, what can we do to help him learn to take a hint?

  • 4
    OK, this may sound stupid (that's why it is a comment, not an answer), but... how old are your younger kids? I have two of age 2 and 5 and with my full respect to your wife's and elder daughter's naps, I can't hardly belive having "couple hours of quiet time every day" in my house. Kids, especially young, have more power (more powerful heart) than they actually need and need to have any way to release it. We also have a quite time at our house, but it is about 1-1,5 hour a day, not an every day. My 5 years old daughter would probably ask you, how long someone can nap or take a bath? :] – trejder Oct 16 '14 at 13:10
  • As the introverted husband of an extrovert I can sympathize with your daughter. There are times I'd just like to scream, "I NEED TIME TO RECHARGE!" - but I don't have the energy. :-) – Bob Jarvis Oct 16 '14 at 14:36
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    @BobJarvis For the first few years we were together, my wife would scream roughly that at me until I learned to respect her 'alone time' - part of which is why I see how this could be difficult, because as a 20 something it took me two years to really learn it. – Joe Oct 16 '14 at 17:42
8

Honestly, to me this sounds like normal sibling behavior, extroverted or not. My family was all medium introverts (at different levels), and we did things like this pretty commonly - trying to get into the others' room when the other wanted us out. Some of it was simply a power game I think - being able to force your way into their room literally showed you could - and some of it was a normal lack of empathy at younger ages (frankly, empathy isn't fully developed until well into the 20s for many, and certainly not nearly fully developed at 7).

My parents dealt with it in a relatively reasonable way, I think; within reason they let us deal with it ourselves (we were 3 siblings within 5 years evenly spaced, so there wasn't a massive power imbalance, and it was generally not the oldest vs. youngest, usually some combination involving the middle). When it wasn't something we could deal with on our own, then they reinforced that you shouldn't 'force' anyone to do anything, and to give our siblings space.

In particular, I considered this a normal sibling thing because it wasn't something we ever did to other people - only our siblings. It was something we did in the safety of family (similar to how young toddlers/babies often only act out around the parents, and are perfect angels around anyone else - because they know mommy won't leave them just because of bad behavior).

I think that to the extent you can try and stop this, my parents' approach was generally reasonable (and sounds like it's not that different from yours). 7 is still quite young to empathize with someone with different feelings than yourself, so I would probably not spend too much effort working on that for now; of course talk about it, but don't expect it to work for a while. I remember being in high school and still having a very hard time empathizing with people who had different reactions to me. Instead, hard and fast rules ("If she's screaming, stop doing Whatever you are doing), and trying to solve question #2 is probably best (to take away the motivation).


As far as your 'how do you deal with it': I would suggest as much as possible taking some of this time and making it into daddy or mommy and son time. That's the "easy" fix; I realize you're not an extrovert either, and I know it drives my wife bat-crazy sometimes when the kids are super clingy (she's a true introvert, I'm just in the mild introvert area), but it's something you can do in the short term.

In the longer term, he's going to have to find things he can do himself, or find friends to play with. By 7 he's probably old enough to have friends outside the house and play with them at least somewhat on his own, no? I know you home school and this might limit the automatic friend pool some, but I'm sure you socialize some (vaguely remembering other questions). If this 'introvert recharge time' is somewhat schedulable, schedule 'friend time'/playdates to overlap it. If it's not, then just schedule frequent enough playdates that he gets out often enough for his sister to get her own time often enough.

As far as things he can do himself, he's a bit young for any sort of social online experience, but perhaps he might be able to do some creative writing/play? IE, my son who's probably the same extrovert in an introvert household (but 3) when he's left to his own devices often spends a lot of time making up complicated scenarios where he and his friends/relatives do complicated things. I mean things like, he sets up some buses, each bus contains some of his preschool classmates, and they reenact a recent field trip; or he takes his plane and flies to his grandmother's house, and imagines doing things there.

It's not quite the social fulfillment that playing with others is, but it does seem to fill in that role partially for my three year old when he can't get attention from parents or his younger brother. At seven I could see creative writing take this place better; making up characters and putting them through storylines or similar, and gaining some of the social 'feelings' (endorphins/etc.) that way.

7

While I am not terribly extroverted myself, I have had to deal with a number of children (and some adults) like this. As far as your first question goes, I really don't know. The extroverts like this that I have dealt with seem like it is just part of being an extrovert and that it isn't tied to being a certain age. Don't take that to mean he won't grow out of it. Many of the kids I know got better over time (possibly because of help from others). Whether it is a phase or not, learning how to respect other people's decisions and their space will serve him well throughout his life.

To address questions 2 and 3, part of the problem may stem from the fact that he is very extroverted while you and your family are more introverted. He says he feels lonely and wants someone to be with. He may either not understand or just assume that everyone else feels the way he does. The trick is helping him to understand that sometimes other people just want to be alone. This can sometimes be harder than we wish it was.

First, I would take some time to talk to him and explain what is going on. Explain that people have a right to be alone and that when they choose to be alone he needs to respect that decision. Acknowledge his feelings. Tell him "Look, I know you feel lonely and just want to play with someone else and it sucks when no one else wants to play." Then help him understand that his behavior is not acceptable. It is not OK to grab someone to keep them from leaving or to break in to someone's room. You and your spouse should figure out an appropriate punishment for breaking these rules and make sure it is communicated to him (so he knows what to expect and how seriously he should be taking this). Also help him to understand what he should have taken as hints (ie. "I'm going to my room now" or screaming to be left alone). Finally, brainstorm with him to come up with a list of things he can do to keep himself occupied. It could be anything like building a Lego city to reading a book, etc. Write the list down and keep it in a place he can get to it when he needs it during quiet time.

All that being said, the purpose of having the talk is not to read him the riot act, but to help him understand how important it is to respect other peoples decisions and their privacy.

Also, like your son, most of the kids (and adults) like this that I have been around are notoriously bad at taking hints. Helping them to learn how to take the hint takes a lot of patience. Sometimes it will involve pointing out to your son that when his sister says or does something specific that he needs to know that that means she wants to be alone. Other times both you and your daughter will need to be very explicit and stop dropping hints altogether. Have your daughter flat out tell him "I want to be alone. Please leave me alone." If he ignores explicit instructions, that is when your daughter needs to get your attention so you can intervene. After a while (and maybe a few incidents) he will get it. He still has a long time to grow up and you have plenty of time to teach and help him.

6

I think the introvert/extrovert difference is a red herring in this case (and I say that as an introvert myself). Instead, I think the difficulties you are running into are from two issues which are unrelated to extroversion:

Following Rules

The responsible authorities (his parents) have made a rule: No entering siblings' rooms without permission. That rule needs to be followed. It doesn't matter if he doesn't see a reason for it. It doesn't matter if he disagrees with the rule. It doesn't matter if the rule is inconvenient for him at the time. That's the rule that's in force, and he is supposed to obey it.

I should clarify that I'm not promoting blind obedience to rules, or for parents to be dictatorial. There's certainly should be space and ability to question rules and get the rationale for rules he doesn't understand explained to him. But he needs to learn that there are productive and acceptable ways of doing that and simply ignoring the rule is not appropriate.

His extroversion is certainly an explanation to you as to why he might not understand or agree with the rule, but that doesn't change the fact that he knows what the rule is, and that he should be obeying it even if he doesn't completely understand or agree with it. It's a standard "my child doesn't obey rules" situation, and should be treated as such - extroversion isn't really a complicating factor here.

Empathy

Personally, I think this is a critical issue to address. One of the problems is an underdeveloped sense of empathy on the part of your son toward his sister. Even outside of the parent-imposed rule, your son should have realized that he was doing something wrong when his sister started to scream at him (or before). It's critical for children to learn to "put themselves in other peoples shoes" - to understand that other people have wants/needs/desires which may be different or even conflicting with their own wants/needs/desires. They then need to learn how to respect others' wishes, even if that conflicts with their own.

With a well-developed sense of empathy, your son would be able to recognize that his sister likes her alone time and that he should respect that out of respect for her, even if he doesn't understand why she likes it, or see the need for alone time himself. Note that this will extend to other differences in needs/desires between them, even ones unrelated to the introvert/extrovert distinction.

Unfortunately, techniques for nurturing empathy aren't as well worn as ones about getting kids to follow rules. (I don't have resources I can endorse whole-heartedly, but Googling "empathy children" should get you started.) You're also dealing with developmental stages issues - the capacity for empathy is something that matures as a child develops (it hinges on having a well-developed "theory of mind" to be able to think about how other people think and feel). From what I understand, seven is on the cusp of having a full-blown empathetic relationship with others, so complex empathy may be difficult for him at the start, but you can certainly start planting the seeds for thinking about others having desires which may be different from his own, and how he can go about honoring and respecting them.

2

This does seem perfectly normal behaviour.

Of my 3 kids, one would be perfectly happy on her own in the middle of a field. One of the others really wants company at all times, so being on her own is like a punishment for her.

Your son may be feeling upset by the enforced lack of company - for him, being with his sister is a good thing. And at that age he won't necessarily understand that his sister may not feel the same way. As you can imagine, this can be very confusing for a small child.

To solve this you will need to work with both your children - helping your son understand the benefits of alone time, and helping your daughter understand that her brother really wants to play with her.

There will end up being a middle ground where both can be reasonably happy most of the time, and this will get easier. (And probably harder again at teenage years, but you can worry about that when it comes :-)

2

Avoid the need to re-train your son into introvert behaviour and book him into clubs and activities for those times. That removes him from the home allowing you to all lead the lives you lead and provides him with fun, fulfilling activity.

  • 1
    It's no more reasonable to expect an extrovert to never have to be alone than it is to expect an introvert to never have to be around other people. I'm not trying to change my son. I'm trying to give him tools to cope and consider others' feelings during the 8% of his day that doesn't revolve around his needs. – Karl Bielefeldt Oct 16 '14 at 12:52
2

To the first question:
I don't think your son's behavior had a creepy vibe. He was clever when it came to finding a way to unlock the door (something I figured out how to do around his age, but usually with paperclips or the inner part of a pen). After such an accomplishment, I wouldn't be surprised if he were trying to prove that he could get in the room no matter what. It was certainly negative behavior, but not atypical for a young boy(no matter where he lies on the extroversion scale).

Behavior such as that can come from a mixed state of emotions. If no one wants to play with him at that time he may still have hurt feelings. I would talk to him to try and address his emotional needs, first, and resort to disciplining the behavior only if it continues. When a child has difficulty coping with emotions they can't fully process, they need to be trained how to handle their express. Using only punishment doesn't teach them the "right" way to express their feelings, just the "wrong" way. (It sounds like you've already been talking to him about his feelings, since he's expressed that he's lonely.)

To the second question:
To your son, this "family" alone time might very well feel exclusive. If everyone else wants to be alone, then I don't expect he's going to endure the current structure very well.

I would suggest, instead, that the family doesn't all have this quiet time simultaneously. I'm assuming that when are the ladies in your house are choosing to have quiet time, that you are home. In this case, I suggest some one-on-one time with your son. Even if you desire your quiet time at that moment, it'd be best to take it later.

To encourage your son to come to you (or your wife, if the situation calls for it), rather than harass your other children, I recommend finding some sort of long-term activity he enjoys. You'd want this activity to be something that takes many days worth of quiet time to complete. It doesn't necessarily have to be playing a game or with toys. You could teach him some sort of skill or craft. Something that comes to my mind is having him assist with helping to make a snack for the afternoon (for the family), or maybe a dessert to go with the next meal. The reason this "cooking" comes to mind is that it's an activity that the whole family can appreciate, and will aide in increasing his self-worth.

It'll be between you and your wife how you want to schedule the "on call" parent, if it won't be the same one every day.

To the third question:
Some children simply don't do well with hints, at all. If somebody is specifically wanting some time by themselves, and they know your son may encroach upon that, then it should be their responsibility to politely let him know that they don't want to be disturbed for "a little bit." It may help if that family members adds a, "I'll come get you when I'm done."

Your daughter can also be taught skills to handle such situations better. Instead of trying to block the door and screaming, she could just open the door, leave, and go get a parent. In many real-life situations involving people being difficult, the best solution is to just leave the situation and let someone (usually higher up in management) deescalate it. It may not be "fair" for your daughter to get interrupted during her quiet time, but it is definitely an opportunity to teach her as well as your son. As you witnessed, her solution unfortunately fed more negative energy into the conflict.

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