Introverted Little Ones
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 6, November-December 2003, pp. 224
"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
I have read stories about breastfeeding toddlers who are "well adjusted," "sure of themselves," and "outgoing," and the implication is that these characteristics are the result of extended breast-feeding. My son, on the other hand, is very much an introvert and doesn't adapt easily to change. I don't believe any amount of breastfeeding would change his basic temperament. Can mothers of introverts tell about their experience with extended nursing and their children's personalities?
My husband and I both have introverted personalities, so it was no surprise that our oldest daughter does, too. One of our goals as parents has been to support her at being who she is while using our experiences to teach her how to pace herself in a lifestyle that is healthy for an introvert. Extended breastfeeding has been a key part of that support. When coping with an often-overwhelming world became too much, breastfeeding provided a way for her to connect and quiet down. When we had a busy day and needed to push her tolerance for change, breastfeeding breaks gave her the energy to keep going. When we misjudged how much stimulation she could handle and a major meltdown happened, breastfeeding helped to get her back on her feet. She voluntarily stopped breastfeeding, but we still use snuggle time to re-connect after a busy day and share a family bed to provide nighttime reassurance.
Oakland MD USA
My older son is an introvert by nature. The introverted personality traits began showing themselves at a very early age. As a baby, he had extreme stranger anxiety and had a great deal of trouble warming up to new adults (or even ones he knew fairly well) and new situations. Busy, noisy occasions, such as family gatherings or parties, made it especially hard for him to relax. This was hard on his grandparents, who didn't really seem to understand. He also didn't seem to really enjoy being around other children. I tried several playgroups and "mommy and me" classes over his first couple of years, none of which really worked out.
I, like you, was confused. Why wasn't he more secure and adjusted? He was breastfed on cue from day one. My husband and I believed our attachment parenting style would help him feel secure. However, sometimes it seemed like we had the only child who couldn't handle things!
What we have learned over time (he is almost four) is that it wasn't really that he wasn't secure or well adjusted. He is just an introvert by nature and wasn't developmentally ready to handle certain social situations. A book that really helped me to understand this was Raising Your Spirited Child. It has an excellent section on extroverts vs. introverts, and is very helpful in understanding introverts. I am a natural extrovert and this book taught me to not only understand my son's temperament, but to appreciate and work with it instead of become frustrated by it. I realized that our parenting style and extended breastfeeding were helping him to become a secure and well-adjusted person, but that didn't mean that it would make him comfortable in situations that he wasn't ready for due to his introverted nature.
As my son neared three, he showed signs that he was more ready to socialize and be more comfortable in groups, so I followed his cues and started to get him involved with more situations with children his age. He started to play with other children at parks and also was more comfortable talking to other adults and children. He started preschool around then, and although it was a tough adjustment, he really enjoyed it. Signing him up for a gymnastics class really seemed to help his self-esteem. He is a very physical child and really loves sports and gymnastics, so being able to do something well really helped build his self confidence. Perhaps you could try signing your son up for a sport, art or music lessons, or any other activity that he might enjoy.
Now, at almost four, he loves being around other children and adults. My husband and I marvel at how much he has changed! He now asks who we are seeing that day or where we are going! After a summer filled with swimming lessons, gymnastics, and sports camp, I'm exhausted but so comforted to see him happy and participating! It was a rough ride at times, but your son will also show you in his own way when he is ready to "come out of his shell."
Fairfax City VA USA
My eldest, despite nursing (for a long time) is very much an introvert. It was obvious when he was little. He sat on the sidelines, watched others for lengthy periods of time, and eventually joined in play on his own terms.
He is now a teenager, and still an introvert. He is uncomfortable in group settings, so homeschooling turned out to be best for him. He just cannot be with 30 loud children in a classroom and thrive.
I used to blame his personality on my parenting skills. Since I am an extrovert, it was very difficult for me to understand that some people just cannot get up on stage and speak to audiences. I thought my way of being was "normal." Through years of having this sensitive young man in my house, I have realized that he is normal, too.
In a gregarious society, quiet people get overlooked, ignored, and questioned. "Why is he so quiet?" Well, being in a group can make an introvert shut down. "Why won't he answer my questions?" Most of us don't like being questioned. An introvert will be obvious in not answering, whereas an extrovert might keep talking yet still not really answer an intrusive question.
This past summer brought a change for us. Several of my son's cousins and friends are very outgoing, and they all became camp counselors. My son was simply not ready. I was told to force him into the job. I refused, knowing it wouldn't be good for him. After camp was over, my son came to me and told me, "Next year, I would like to be a camp counselor." He made his choice, without force.
It takes all kinds to fill the world, and appreciating that our differences make us more interesting is sometimes lost on society. Enjoy your child, support his efforts, and try not to worry about what the neighbors say. We all get to the finish line, just not all at the same time.
Heather "Sam" Doak
Marietta OH USA
I know just what you mean! My oldest son is also an introvert and had difficulty handling new situations. I often wondered if I was doing something wrong. I had also heard and read that well-attached children are very secure. "Extended nursing" definitely described our experience, but "secure" was not the word to describe my son. At playgroups he would cry if he lost sight of me. At music class he would not leave my lap until well into the semester, and then only for short ventures. We started him in preschool two mornings a week at age three, and the separation was very hard on both of us.
I didn't think he needed more attention or love from us, as I couldn't imagine giving any more than we were already! What I now realize is that he needed more understanding and more time. As an extrovert myself, it was hard for me to understand his behavior. (His father , who is an introvert, always seemed less bothered by our son's introversion than I was.)
Once I was able to accept my son's quiet manner, things were much easier. Instead of expecting him to go to Sunday School by himself happily, I signed up to teach his class. I found enrichment activities such as mommy-and-me swim classes and stayed with him during story hour at the library. Gradually, he was able to be happy on his own, going into the next room for the story while I stayed and wandered in the stacks.
The other key was time. Now that he is five, I realize that his sadness in the beginning of preschool was not because he was introverted, "clingy," or too young. It was because he is who he is! I agree that breastfeeding or parenting style cannot affect basic temperament. Now I have another son, who has made it clear that hesitancy is not one of his characteristics! Continue to enjoy your son for who he is, and advocate for him with others.
Cheryl Peachey Stoner
Hesston KS USA
As the mother of a sensitive, shy, and slow-to-adapt child, I can identify with your situation. No amount of breastfeeding would have changed her temperament, nor did it need to be changed. However, these characteristics do make life in our society more challenging. Nursing, frequently and lengthily in our case, gave her a secure base from which to view the world.
I often heard mothers comment about how their children never got sick since they were breastfeeding. Well, my daughter breastfed, and she still got colds and ear infections. I remind myself how much sicker she might have been without my milk. The same idea applies to the emotional aspects of breastfeeding. New situations and people have been very challenging for my child. How much harder they might have been without the refuge of a warm, familiar place to close out the world for a few minutes.
At five, my daughter still has the basic temperament she did as an infant, but she has grown and learned skills to venture out and enjoy new experiences. I believe breastfeeding gave her the security she needed. I encourage your loving care of your son through nursing.
El Cerrito CA USA
It's been my experience that self-assurance and an outgoing nature are developmental milestones, like walking and talking. Some children do it earlier, some later. But, if you respond in a natural and supportive way to meet your child's needs (and breastfeeding can be a major part of this), then they will eventually achieve those milestones in their own ways.
My daughter could have been the poster child for the high need baby. She knew who her mother was from day one and did not accept any substitute. Grandma could not rock her to sleep. Grandpa couldn't even hold her. I didn't leave her with a babysitter for two hours until she was over two years old. Through all of this I tried my best to keep my sanity, and continued to nurse her extensively until she felt ready to stop.
All this care and attention paid off when she turned three-and-a-half. All of a sudden, the "social" developmental switch was turned on and my daughter became a social butterfly. I'm still shaking my head over her complete turnaround. She went to preschool and never looked back. She can spend all day at a friend's house and still say "Aw, mom, just five more minutes" when it's time to go home. Total strangers comment on how "well adjusted, sure of herself, and outgoing" my little girl is, and ask what my secret is.
So, did extended nursing turn that developmental switch early? Obviously not. I believe that extended nursing and attachment parenting helped her prepare for the time when she would become social, and made that switch as easy and painless as possible.
Ames IA USA