Personality Differences in Five-Year-Old Children

What is it that can make one child so gregarious, sociable, and outgoing and another child so painfully shy that he will not come out from behind his mother's leg to say hello to people he knows? If you were to observe a kindergarten class, you would probably be surprised by the extreme differ­ences in the style of interactions among children. At one ex­treme are those children who are talkative with their peers, who volunteer for tasks, and who offer comments in a confi­dent fashion. This is in sharp contrast to those children who tend to stay by themselves, who rarely interact with their peers, and who would like to hide under the table when the teacher asks for volunteers.

These differing personality styles are simply something with which children are born. Extroverts are those children who tend to draw energy from other people and things around them. They need the company of others and are constantly looking for friends to be around them. When they are alone, they become whiny or bored.

Parents of extroverts often have a house full of other children, just so their child will be content. Teachers may report problems these children have with chatting in class or difficulty keeping their hands off other children's belongings. It may be difficult for them to wait their turn to speak because they have an immediate answer for most questions. As soon as children arrive home from school, they seek immediate atten­tion to recount all their experiences from the day.

Introverts, those children who need time alone to re­charge, present a very different and often concerning picture to parents. These are the children who are very comfortable being alone. Sometimes they play with one or two others, but there is no urgency to have friends around. Many times, parents have to encourage their child to call another friend. These children are often described as slow to warm up, and they may withdraw from new situations or people. They may be more talkative at home than with strangers or at school, primarily because they are more comfortable at home.

These children learn best by reading and listening rather than participating in hands-on activities. They may demonstrate a strong sense of personal space and are protective of their possessions. Being forced to share is a frustrating situation for introverted children. When they arrive home from school, they need time to process their experiences from the day. They will probably be reluctant to talk about their day as soon as they arrive home and would rather spend time by themselves.

In school, these two personality types respond better to different approaches. For the outgoing, extroverted child, there is a need for lots of opportunities to talk. Space where they can work with friends is beneficial, as are periods during the day when they can be in physical contact with other chil­dren (circle time, recess, and gym time). Teachers can help the extrovert by speaking a child's name before asking a question. This helps your extroverted child learn to take turns.

In contrast, introverted children need a chance to watch and listen before participating in an activity. If they know what will be discussed ahead of time, they are more likely to partici­pate in the discussion. They are comfortable with a quiet reading area away from other children and space where they can observe the ongoing activities. Unlike the outgoing child, an introverted child prefers circle time and other activities during which it's okay to sit apart from other children.

For the most part, the introverted child causes more concern that the extroverted child. They are frequently labeled "shy" and sometimes are judged to have social difficulties. Is it possible to help an introverted child become more outgoing?

To a certain extent, introverted children can become more comfortable in social situations. As parents, you can focus on opportunities to build self-confidence. Commend your child for attempting something that is difficult. Guiding your child into nonthreatening interactions can also help overcome social difficulties. Encouraging him to spend time with children who are not overbearing or intimidating will help him become more comfortable in social situations. When a new social situation comes up, try to introduce it on a gradual basis. Instead of accepting invitations to five birthday parties in a week, accept one invitation to a party that might not be too overwhelming (small number of children or a child with whom your child has had social contact).

Perhaps the most important factor to remember is to avoid labeling your child shy. Very often, parents can be heard telling other adults, "Don't mind him, he's just very shy." Com­ments like this, although not meant to hurt a child, can cause embarrassment and make a child acutely sensitive to the fact that social situations are difficult. Having it brought to the attention of others serves only to make the situation worse.

Comments from other adults about your child's "shyness" are best handled with a simple response: "He takes a little time to feel comfortable in new situations," or "He tends to be on the quiet side."

As with many of the other personality factors, if your child's shyness is having a significant impact on his ability to engage in day-to-day activities, it may be advisable to seek the help of a qualified professional. There are very specific programs available for children with social difficulties that focus on increasing the child's involvement in different social situations while decreasing the anxiety experienced.

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