One of the big things that introverts want people to know is that “introversion is not the same as shyness.” And it isn’t — just because someone is introverted doesn’t mean they are shy, and there are plenty of shy extroverts as well (Susan Cain has an article about this). People tend to assume shyness is the same thing as introversion, but that’s just not true. Introversion refers to a preference for how someone gathers energy — they are energized by alone time rather than by being around groups of people. Shyness is fear.
But how is it that we become shy? If it’s not inborn, then we must learn it at some point, usually quite early in our lives. You might see an outgoing child become shy, but it’s rare that a socially confident adult suddenly develops traits of shyness. So what happens to turn introverted children shy?
Confusing “Shy” and “Introverted”
The confusion between “shy” and “introverted” has a long history. Jung, whose work the Myers-Briggs test is based on, wrote that “the introverted attitude includes a tendency to be shy.” While extroverts can be shy (and it might actually be more difficult for them since shyness conflicts with their need to be energized by other people), shyness is more likely in introverts. A certain level of shyness might simply be part of the introverted temperament, but more extreme shyness and social anxiety is not an unavoidable part of introversion.
In his article “Are You Motivated by Your Fear or Your Preference?” Andy Mort says that understanding why introverts are believed to be shy and how that belief impacts society is important. Since introversion is so often confused for shyness, introverted children are often told that they are shy by well-meaning adults who think they need to “fix things.”
When I believed I was shy I adopted that label and acted shy; I feared certain social interactions because I didn’t want my ‘shyness’ to be picked up on, and so often withdrew. Shyness as an identity was reinforced by virtue of the fact that I believed my introverted tendencies were in fact me being shy. And the more I fought them by trying to be more extraverted, the more I withdrew (and more shy I believed I was) because I was using so much social energy. – Andy Mort
Rather than recognizing introverted children and teaching them how to be stable, confident introverts, we tell them they’re shy and try to turn them into extroverts. Someone once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid” (this quote is often attributed to Einstein, but I can’t find out if that’s accurate). Similarly, when we judge introverted children by their ability to be extroverts, we send them the message that there is something wrong with them, and we label that something shyness.
It’s obvious that a solution to this problem has to include a flexibility that allows for people to actually be individuals. It’s one of the great ironies of today’s society that we’re obsessed with individualism, but only if it fits neatly within a certain standard. This is one of the many reasons parents choose to homeschool — to tailor the learning experience to each child’s needs.
One of the most common arguments leveled against homeschooling is that it creates shy, socially awkward children. In reality, homeschoolers are no more likely to be shy than public schooled children. In her book Introvert Power, Laurie Helgoe suggests that homeschooling is actually the best way for introverted children to learn, at least until school reforms like the ones Susan Cain discusses in this interview can be implemented.
For an introverted child, homeschooling offers a chance for them to learn in their preferred environment — alone or in small groups of people they know well. Since they’re not stressed by the constant over-stimulation and energy drain of being around large groups, they’ll have more social energy available when they do interact with other children, which will help them develop stronger social skills and more confidence in social situations.
These social situations could be church gatherings, homeschool co-ops, field trips, play dates — pretty much any social activity with other children and with older or younger people. Since parents spend so much time with homeschooled children, they’ll usually know them well enough to tell when the child should be encouraged to get outside their comfort zone and make friends, and when to back-off and give them “introvert time.”
8 thoughts on “Why Homeschool Introverts?”
As an adult introvert, who may or may not be shy, thank you for this!
You’re very welcome 🙂
I find it interesting that homeschoolers are perceived by the outside world to be shy, since none of the ones I have ever interacted with have been shy. If anything, homeschoolers are more likely to engage with people, to hold intellectual conversations, and to talk as easily with adults as other children — so in some cases, despite shyness, their homeschooling has trained them to better interact with a wide variety of people, as opposed to the generational gap imposed on public school children through peer interaction.
Myself, I can’t decide if I’m shy or simply uninterested in talking to people I don’t know all that well. I have no problem conversing if there is a topic of interest for us to discuss, but I rarely strike up conversations out of the blue or intercede in other people’s conversations if I don’t know them.
I’ve noticed that lessened generational gap as well — both in other homeschoolers, and in myself and my siblings. I was most shy around my peer group, but had no trouble talking with adults or younger children.
The phrase “selectively social” comes to mind when reading your comment. It doesn’t sound like a fear of engaging with people, which is part of shyness, but more like choosing not to spend social energy on conversations you don’t care about. Makes perfect sense to me 🙂
Yeah, peers can be trying… particularly for me as a kid, since I was never interested in any of the same things other kids were (weird personality + homeschool, so while they were all about boys, I was reading Sherlock Holmes and classic lit, heh).
True. I’ll talk, but it has to be about something in particular. Small talk is not my forte. 🙂
I loved classic lit as a child, too! Most of my peers didn’t understand my references, and I was always so happy when I met someone who had read Anne of Green Gables, knew Robin Hood from something other than a movie, and could talk about Jules Verne.
Yay for the classic lit kids!
One added bonus was the fact that it gave me a large vocabulary. I think I was twelve or so and I used “a fortnight” accurately, which greatly impressed one of the adults I was talking to. 😀