What is the difference between being shy and being introverted?

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Question: What is the difference between being shy and being introverted?

My gifted 8-year-old son doesn't have many friends and spends a lot of time alone in his room. Although he doesn't seem to be unhappy, I worry about him, especially when his teacher tells me that he doesn't socialize well with the other kids in his class. He's always been shy and I've tried to help him improve his social skills, but my friend says he's an introvert.

What's the difference between being shy and being an introvert? Aren't they really the same thing?


Being shy and being introverted aren't the same thing, although they may look the same. An introvert enjoys time alone and gets emotionally drained after spending a lot of time with others. A shy person doesn't necessarily want to be alone, but is afraid to interact with others.

Consider two children in the same classroom, one introverted and one shy. The teacher is organizing an activity for all the children in the room. The introverted child wants to remain at her desk and read a book because she finds being with all the other children stressful. The shy child wants to join the other children, but remains at her desk because she is afraid to join them.

Children can be helped to overcome their shyness, but introversion is as much a part of a person as is hair or eye color. In other words, people can get therapy for shyness, but not for introversion.

Not all introverts are shy. In fact, some have excellent social skills. However, after engaging in social activities, an introvert will be emotionally drained and need time alone to "recharge" their emotional batteries.

While therapy can help the shy person, trying to turn an introvert into an outgoing extrovert can cause stress and lead to problems with self-esteem.

Introverts can learn coping strategies to help them deal with social situations, but they will always be introverts.

If you think your child might be an introvert, you might want to look at some of the traits of introversion and see how many of them your child has.

How Can You Help Your Introverted Child?

The first thing to do is to recognize that introversion is not a disorder that requires some kind of treatment. In that sense, your introverted child doesn't really need help. However, to ensure that your child is happy and healthy, there are some things you can do.

The best thing you can do for your child is to understand introversion and accept that this is a normal personality trait. Accept that your child may not be the social butterfly you hoped she'd be, that your home might not be filled with lots of your child's friends on a regular basis. Accept that your child will no doubt enjoy spending lots of time alone. Accept that your child may have just a few close friends.

If you can accept these traits, then you will be less likely to push your child to engage in more social activities than he feels comfortable with.

Be sure, too, to provide some time for your child to wind down after social activities.If your child has been to a party, for example, don't be surprised if she wants to spend some time alone. Going from one social activity to another, even a family dinner, can be a bit stressful for a child and make her a little cranky.

Raising an introverted child can be difficult, especially for extroverted parents. But like all children, what they need most is love and understanding.

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