A couple of weeks ago, we took our twins to a birthday party at a bounce house. It was the first one we’ve been to for a friend at school, and it was interesting to see how our kids interacted with the other kids in their class. After a while I didn’t see Nathan, so I went searching.
I found him sitting alone inside a tunnel in the corner of the room.
“Buddy! What are you doing in here?!”
“I’m tired. I wanted to get away.”
I didn’t even know what to say. My 4-year-old son was tired of playing with other kids so he just “left.” On one hand, I was embarrassed my kid was sitting in a tunnel at a birthday party (bad, I know). On the other hand, I totally understood.
I had always known Nathan was an introverted kid, but it wasn’t until this experience that I realized just how introverted he is – just like me, and just like my husband. Contrary to popular belief, being an introvert isn’t the same as being shy. An introvert is a person who is energized by being alone and whose energy is drained by being around other people (here’s a checklist of traits); conversely, an extrovert is a person who gets their energy from being with other people.
The implications of being introverted extend much further; introverted people process their whole world differently than extroverted people do, and that has a lot of implications for faith as well! If you have an introverted child, here are seven things you’ll want to consider in their faith development.
1. Understand that praying out loud is a HUGE deal.
Many people struggle with praying out loud, but for introverts it can be mortifying; it feels like a performance to let your deepest thoughts flow audibly. That said, it’s important to pray together as a family, so it’s necessary to find ways of encouraging prayer participation while being empathetic to the fears involved. Here are a few tips:
- Use roundtable prayers where a single word contribution is acceptable. For example, we’ll say, “Kenna is thankful for…” (and she says something), “Nathan is thankful for…” (and he says something). This is an easy and low pressure way for each person to contribute. You can also have each person ask for forgiveness for something, praise God for something, ask for healing for someone, etc.
- Have the child repeat after you. I’ve always thought it was important to teach our kids to pray from the heart, so I’ve never taught them memorized prayers. However, I found a happy medium between intimidating spontaneous prayers and rote memorization with this two-step process: 1) I ask Nathan for three things he wants to pray about, then 2) I make a prayer out of those things and he repeats after me. This way the prayer is still based on his heart’s desire, but I’m helping him find the words to use.
- Resist the temptation to compliment prayers. It seems natural to offer an encouraging “good job” after a prayer, but complimenting a prayer implies there are good prayers and bad prayers, which further exacerbates the fear of doing something wrong. Just say Amen!
2. Be proactive in initiating faith conversations.
Introverts mostly process internally, so what you hear from them is only the “tip of the thought iceberg” – if you get to see that tip at all. An introverted child may be less likely than others to proactively engage verbally with you on faith (or anything else). This makes it especially important to be the initiator of faith conversations so you can understand where your kids are in their thinking and how to best guide their faith journey.
3. Ask open-ended questions rather than right-or-wrong questions.
Most introverts don’t like being put “on the spot” to come up with a right answer in front of others (e.g., siblings). Keep this in mind when you ask questions during Bible lessons or story time with your kids. Instead of quizzing them on specific answers, engage with them through open-ended discussion questions (e.g., “How do you think Joseph felt when he was in jail?”).
4. Pay attention to your child’s social experiences at church and intervene when needed.
Introverted kids can have more difficulty making friends because it often takes them longer to get comfortable with other children. If your child isn’t having a good social experience in Sunday school, it can make all of church a very negative experience. Introverted kids may not proactively offer you that information, however, so be sure to regularly ask questions to find out how your child is doing with other kids in the class.
5. Accept quiet (but respectful) forms of worship.
Introverts often don’t feel comfortable with “external” manifestations of worship. I don’t particularly like singing in church, I’m not a “hand raiser,” and I’m usually not a clapper. I prefer to be reflective rather than expressive. As long as your kids are being respectful (i.e., not goofing around), don’t pressure them to worship in ways that become more about managing discomfort than thinking about God. Remember, worship is a state of the heart.
6. Find serving experiences that utilize your child’s gifts.
Many church serving experiences are geared toward people who are comfortable talking to strangers at length, helping groups of people, praying out loud with others, etc. – things that can be very difficult for introverts! Look for serving opportunities that comfortably emphasize your child’s gifts (e.g., serving in a soup kitchen, making toiletry packs to give to the homeless, organizing/managing a charitable fundraiser rather than going door-to-door, etc.).
7. Make sure your little introvert knows he or she is just as important as anyone else in God’s kingdom.
Growing up, it always seemed to me that the kids who were singing in front of the church, teaching the younger kids in Sunday school, making visits to people in nursing homes, bringing 20 friends to church each week and offering prayers out loud when called on were the “good” Christian kids. As an introvert, that was never me, and I always felt there was something wrong with my faith because of it. Be sure to proactively let your child know that everyone is equally valuable in God’s kingdom and that they are perfectly made the way they are!
Are you an introvert? Did you share in any of these experiences as a kid? What are other ways we can help our introverted kids in faith development?