If you care for a quiet, shy or 'less sociable' young person, this knowledge gained working with foster parents who care for introverted children may help you support them.
Courtesy of NFA North West training manager Kath Hamblett.
1. Introverts aren’t aloof
Some children may exclude themselves simply because they’re frightened of forming an attachment.
If you’ve often been let down by adults, the relative sanctuary of your bedroom may feel more solid than promises made by ‘new’ people.
Carers can refer to their training — particularly the importance of sensitivity as detailed in the ‘Secure Base Model' to help children manage these feelings.
By tuning into what young people might be feeling, a foster parent can start to understand introvert behaviour and offer the right support.
2. Introverts aren’t boring
A young person might be reluctant to join in or try something new — that doesn’t mean they’re no fun.
They may have been punished or abused for ‘failures’ at tasks and activities in their past — so sticking to the familiar makes sense.
The empathy to see that a lack of participation doesn’t always mean a lack of ambition or ability is an important carer attribute.
And by being patient and encouraging, they can give a young person the best chance to explore how much they want to ‘join in’.
3. Introverts can reach out
Take opportunities to establish (and build on) trust whenever these are presented if possible.
If a child wants to play lego with you rather than go to bed, maybe some shared bonding over bricks would be more beneficial than a strict routine at that time.
By allowing such interaction, you can provide a safe space for a young person to play, explore and share with you.
And as the relationship develops and trust grows, it should become easier to introduce clearer defined routines.
4. Introverts aren’t robots
A perceived lack of emotion may not tell the whole story — some children simply haven’t known a nurturing environment to help them understand their feelings.
If a young person hasn’t learnt what an emotion means, they may not even know if they’re mad/sad/glad/scared — let alone how to express this.
Be there for them and leave no doubt that they’re a member of your family, to develop a sense of belonging.
As the young person becomes more comfortable with their environment, they may learn how to recognise and express emotions by seeing others do so.
5. Introverts aren’t broken
You don’t need to ‘fix’ an introverted young person by keeping them permanently occupied or frequently placing them in social situations.
Sometimes, quiet or alone time is hugely valuable — especially for children who need time to process a lot of unfamiliar information.
A new home, new family, new school — even new feelings — can be a lot to deal with — so be available but recognise the value of space.
If you can give this support, a young person can start to associate that solitude with reflection, rather than exclusion or punishment.
6. Introverts may have history
When involving an introvert in a group or family event, consider that you may need to manage expectations.
Just because a party or barbecue means a good time for most, such occasions could have different associations for a looked-after child.
So they may appear more anxious than excited at the prospect of a get-together, particularly one with lots of people, alcohol or an unfamiliar location.
Address concerns by explaining what goes on at such occasions in your family — and maybe even dig out a photo from a previous similar event.
7. Introverts may need ‘guesswork’
An introverted child’s lack of visible confidence may go hand-in-hand with not understanding consequences.
When kids are told ‘don’t run with scissors’, ‘hold hands to cross the road’ and ‘take off coats indoors’ — they learn about cause and effect.
But without this understanding of reasons for actions, a young person may not understand why they’re being asked to do (or not do) something.
Using ‘guesses’ to prompt them to question themselves can encourage them to understand the causes and outcomes of certain behaviour.
Try phrases like: ‘I guess you wanted to stay in your room rather than eat with us because you’re feeling upset about XXXX’, to start the process.
So... one step at a time
So a child who isn’t the ‘life and soul’ doesn’t need to be forced to change, they need acceptance and availability.
Remember — ‘quiet’ is a subjective term and someone who seems withdrawn at first in your home may be dealing with much more than they’re used to.
Maybe a one-to-one game of cards will be all they can deal with initially — but give them opportunities to learn the value and fun of spending time with others.
With time and luck, the young person will become an important part of your family who can also spend time apart without being seen as rude or sullen.
Find out more about the Secure Base programme and other specialist training available for carers by calling 0800 044 3030 or if you prefer, contact us online.
To see when you can talk to some of our friendly staff in person about training and support, see our latest events near you.