This past Saturday morning, my son’s nursery school — which is probably the most progressive, thoughtfully-run institution on earth — held a “pajama hop” fundraiser. It was a family affair. At ten in the morning, we parents and offspring crowded into the gym, decked out in our PJs, while a local band performed children’s music and goofy comedy routines designed to get the kids jumping and dancing.
It worked beautifully. For about sixty percent of the kids. That sixty percent wore huge, happy smiles as they hopped up and down and gazed delightedly at the band.
The other forty percent? Totally different experience. They sat unmoving on their parents’ laps, looking overwhelmed. Some avoided facing the stage. Others stared fixedly ahead. An event designed for all the kids in the school had inadvertently left almost half of them (based on my scan of the room) feeling uncomfortable and over-stimulated.
I knew exactly how they felt, because I felt the same way. The music was too loud, there were too many people, too much overall din. When we left the party at noon, I walked into the cool spring air and immediately felt restored, as if my self had temporarily taken leave of my body while we were inside the gym, and had now returned in a great big whoosh of relief.
I was reminded of how often kids are thrown into a one-size-fits-all environment and expected to thrive. We plan kids’ activities with the best intentions: don’t all children like music, food, clowns?
Well, yes. But they enjoy these things in very different forms. My three-year-old, for example, dislikes formal music classes (the kind where you sit around in a circle and harmonize and play instruments together). If we didn’t know better, we might conclude that music just isn’t his thing. But that’s not right. At home, and inside the calm environment of his preschool classroom, he loves to sing songs and listen to music. It’s not the music that’s the problem, but the overstimulation.
I often find that it’s clarifying to compare introversion/extroversion to maleness and femaleness. We all take gender into account when planning events for kids. No one would organize a co-ed activity around a princess or fire truck theme. Instead we look for events that work for both boys AND girls.
Imagine if we did the same for introverts and extroverts.
The only time I ever gave my son permission to cut school (I gave him a note for a bogus appointment) was to get him out of an all-school carnival day. We both cringe at the thought of “forced fun” events.
I have been to exactly one concert in my life. When I was young and in college. Never went to another. For the same reason that you describe in this entry. Too much of everything-loud music, too many people and over stimulation of my senses! I always thought it was because I was a stick in the mud! Never could understand the allure of the crowds and the chaos and the noise.
It’s interesting because I largely think of myself as an extrovert (although more and more introverted - can we change?) but I have a very very tough time with these kinds of events. I hate crowds and loud noises. I can count on one hand the number of clubs and concerts I’ve been to (not counting classical music). I never thought of it as part of how I am introverted but this makes me think that they are related.
Emily, actually studies show that most people become more introverted as they grow older! What doesn’t change is your relative introversion compared to others. If you were the fifteenth most introverted person in your high school class, you’d probably have roughly the same rank at your fifteenth year reunion.
I am really enjoying your blog! Despite my own obvious introversion, I hadn’t given nearly enough thought to how introverted my older son is until I started reading you. I just felt a bit bad that he wasn’t enjoying himself more at events. I didn’t really connect his lack of enjoyment with my own. Even though I tend to think of events with lots of noise and people as things to be endured rather than enjoyed, I was still expecting him to enjoy them. Last Saturday we had a gorgeous Spring walk in a local ravine before going to a Purim carnival in the evening. I, of course, enjoyed the former far more than the latter, but I was surprised that he had the same reaction (he’s 9). It’s a hard balance to find: making sure he is open to lots of different experiences and yet doesn’t have to participate in things that are just never going to fun for him. Thanks so much for giving me a new lens for thinking about these issues.
Thx for your comment, Rachael, and I hear you about the difficulty of finding that balance. I think one thing to remember is that there is an infinite variety of experiences that are also quieter and/or take place in smaller groups — it’s a little harder to find them, but they’re there. As an example, for when your son gets a little older — some travel-abroad programs are socially intensive (eg busloads of kids traveling around everywhere together). Others are smaller and more cerebral — for example, participating in an archeological dig.
OMG! It’s so clear in the pre-school crowd who the introverts are! They just don’t mask how they’re feeling. My oldest son is one and yes he hated things like this as a young child — some birthday parties too. I regret that I didn’t have the wisdom to just say no to more of those (borrowing previous commenter, Carol’s terminology) “forced fun” family events for the pre-school set.
As for introvert/extrovert events — isn’t that part of finding yourself? Learning that you are an introvert and how to find the quiet corners (literal and figurative) at loud/noisy/overwhelming events?
What a wonderful post. My son also took music classes when he was five and really disliked the animated methods the teacher used to introduce the concepts yet also loved to sing at home and listen to a variety of music at home. Fortunately now in high school he has a very quiet, low key teacher who has helped him discover how much he loves music.
Reading your comments reminded me of the pleasure I got from walking along the winding path amidst the trees that led to our summer cottage when I was 13 years old and the pleasure I felt at smelling the wonderfully clean air, the thump of my footsteps on the winding path, the crackling noises of the branches underfoot and the sound of the leaves being scattered by the small animals looking for food in the forest and how beautiful the glistening ferns were amidst the filtered sun and pine trees. I finally understood why I hate parties so much. They just drain me out and I can’t get away fast enough. I need peace and quiet to hear myself think and rebuild my energy level. Constant noise just frazzles me.