How Educators Should Approach Introverted Students

male-studentIntroverted students are many times cast out and forgotten. All the attention, even if it is bad attention, goes to the boisterous trouble makers. There is a reason that the phrase “the squeaky wheel gets the oil” is used. Many times the well-behaved and timid just plain get overlooked. Educators can do their part in helping to alleviate the woes of introverted students by thinking outside the box and implementing some simple plans. If you can make a difference, here are some things to keep in mind.

Play it Down
Many times, teachers will think if they just include little Johnny, he’ll be happier-as he will be included. But that’s not always the case. Many times being “noticed” or asked to answer a question only makes the introverted child more so and even can bring on stress related illnesses or conditions. Most of the time, the best way to shower “attention” on an introverted student is one on one, quietly recognizing an accomplishment or great effort by adding a special note, sticker or smiley to a student’s paper or test, not by singling them out to answer a question because you know they know it.

Introverted Does Not Mean Unsure
Many people assume that if a child doesn’t engage in conversation, rush to answer a question or otherwise draw attention to themselves, then they are not as smart as other students or perhaps don’t know how to respond to prompts. Usually, none of these will be the case. A lot of times, an introverted child is way beyond others intellectually and learns a great deal simply by observing others and being quiet in their surroundings, rather than make a raucous.

Never Assume
Many times educators will know which child, introverted or not, will be the “go to kid” for answers when they are calling on kids in class to raise their hand. And that teacher will invariably go to the one they know will answer correctly when they need to “move on” with the lesson. Likewise, they will call on the smart ones to “help” other students if they need more hands to explain one on one to members of the class who are not getting it. Occasionally, this will make an introverted child feel special, but more likely than not, it will only set them up for unwanted attention and feelings of anxiety having to be “put on display” by always being asked for the right answer or for being made a mini-teacher when all they want is to be comfortable in their own seat not have a duty placed on them. And other kids will start to pick up on this behaviour as well and may start teasing the child for being “smart” or the teacher’s pet and this will simply amplify the introverted ways of the child.

Take Action
Many well-intentioned educators will think they can help heal a child’s introverted ways by simply asking them what they would like to do. While the teacher means to only help, this can many times harm and further enhance an introverted child’s ways. If you are going to ask a child to aid you in drawing them out of their shell, do some research and come armed with some fantastic ideas that you can present to the introvert in a way that will make them feel special and that they are having fun and many times it will help to make them a more confident outgoing person. But if you simply say “how can I help get you to talk more” or anything of the sort, it will simply make the child feel like there is something wrong with them and they will quickly realize you have no idea how to deal with them, thus adding extra pressure to the child’s already scared ways.

Many times an introverted child just wants to be a wallflower and disappear. But if you go out of your way to kindly and gently take notice of that child each and every day, they will certainly start to realize you are a friend, not a foe. Try doing things like simply complimenting them on a pretty hair ribbon or mention that they did a good job on some work This will draw attention away from them and their personality, and place it on something that they can still take pride in. Compliment them on their smile by saying things like “you look happy and ready to start the day today!” Try it even if they look scared to death.

Never Compare
Introverted children know they are shy. They do not need to be told so. Never compare them and say things like “you’ll grow out of it” or “you need to talk more like so and so”. This is never acceptable. However, aligning yourself as a comrade can be advantageous in helping the introvert come out of their shell. If you are a gregarious person now, perhaps share with the introvert how when you were younger, you were so shy and felt very afraid of things, but again, try hard to not just say things that make them feel like there is something wrong with them.

Don’t Enlist Other Students
Many times a teacher will ask one student to help another join in more. They will ask them to befriend the new student or the awkward one, thinking that will just take care of the problems of the introvert. But this many times backfires as the enlisted one may act nice in front of the teacher or in class but children don’t know how to filter when it comes to being outside and with their friends. Even an off-handed, unintentional comment that Mrs. So and So asked me to be friends with little Johnny who is new can start up a whole lot of pain for the introvert if it is said to or around the wrong set of ears. The introvert may become a target for teasing etc. when all the teacher was trying to do was help.

Riana Harris is a guidance counselor that writes about her career helping students. Her recent work is about the best MS in Counseling Degrees.


  1. i liked the article overall, especially as an extremely introverted person. however, introversion is not about shyness, it’s about social energy. (see link below) hopefully the shy myth is starting to be challenged. :>

  2. I agree with april.the comment in the article about introverts knowing they are shy took me by surprise.The article seems to stand true for most part though but if my teacher did the whole smile thing I might be kind of creeped out…

  3. There is a lot of excellent advice in this article, but there are a few issues too.

    First, while I like that you’ve included information on teaching shy kids (I feel like some introvert advocates inadvertently or even actively exclude shy people from the current Quiet Revolution, when the world really needs to hear that shyness is not a character flaw and the current stigmatisation of it is wrong), shyness and introversion are not the same thing. Shyness is a fear of being judged negatively; introversion is when you’re drained by too much interaction with people and re-energise by being alone, while an extrovert is energised by interaction with people and drained by being alone. There are shy introverts, confident introverts and shy extroverts, and while their needs may overlap in places, they’re all different.

    Second, I think this part is very problematic: “This will draw attention away from them and their personality, and place it on something that they can still take pride in.” Neither introversion nor shyness is a personality flaw. Both introverted and shy kids have personality traits that should be celebrated in their own right. You rightly say not to imply to a quiet kid that their quietness means there’s something wrong with them, but this sentence implies just that.

    I’m also not a fan of this advice: “Compliment them on their smile by saying things like “you look happy and ready to start the day today!” Try it even if they look scared to death.” Shy kids – any kids – know when you’re bullshitting them. Don’t give them lip service that they know is untrue – this can sound patronising or even sarcastic. Pick a compliment that’s true – like one about their personality!

    • Oh, and when I say “don’t give them lip service that they know is untrue”, I’m not saying don’t try to change negative beliefs that a kid has about themselves. And now that I think about it, some personality types may respond to that kind of compliment. But other personality types require you to challenge their negative belief in a more concrete, specific way, and may feel patronised or think you’re being sarcastic if you tell them they look happy when they know they don’t.

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