I first realized my son was an extrovert when he was 20 months old. My husband and I had recently returned from a 15-month deployment to Iraq and felt like we barely knew our son. We had just picked him up from his grandparents and were in the airport waiting to fly home with him. Our little toddler shocked us by boldly introducing himself to all the nearby strangers and showing them his toys. In the months that followed, he continued to amaze and, at times, mortify us with his overt friendliness toward complete strangers.
In the four years since then, his extroversion has blossomed. He regularly invites friends and church members over to our house. He considers everyone he meets a friend. He craves playtime with others. His favorite activities are noisy and active. When we met one of my husband's co-workers for the first time, we went for a walk, and my son insisted on holding his hand. But he also struggles to focus long enough to finish coloring a picture or building a Lego set.
Discovering the Meaning of Temperament
Although my son's extroversion has been obvious, I didn't fully understand what it meant until recently. I read the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I read it mostly for myself; I'm an extreme introvert. But the book ended up teaching me a lot about my son too.
In her book, Cain explains the basic difference between introverts and extroverts. Extroverts thrive on stimulation and interaction with others, while introverts need quiet and solitude to recharge. Introversion or extroversion is a person's temperament, and it is hardwired into our brains at birth.
David wrote in Psalm 139, "You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb." Our temperament is part of God's design for us and is woven into us. But our personality is more flexible. It grows out of our temperament, but it can be molded by our environment, experiences, and families. Cain compares our personality to a rubber band. We can stretch our personality, but only to a certain point; we can't change the temperament that God knit us with.
Although temperament manifests itself uniquely in each individual, some traits are stereotypically common. Introverts are often described as quiet, shy, introspective, empathetic, or cautious. They think before they speak, take more time making decisions, enjoy working on long-term projects, plan ahead, and like working in solitude. Extroverts are often called outgoing or gregarious. They need to talk to reason things out, sometimes speak before they think, tend to take more risks, do well in groups, and make friends easily. They are viewed as natural leaders, although Cain points out great leaders come from both temperaments.
Finding Joy in Our Differences
These huge differences in temperament have led to a few clashes between me and my son. After a full day of school and homework, he still wants to play basketball or board games. I am ready to sit quietly and read. When I want to cook dinner distraction-free, he wants to talk. When I sit down to go through homework with him, I want to work diligently; he wants to rush so he can get up and move around. Luckily for us, God blessed us with a husband and father whose natural temperament is close to the middle. He is an extrovert, but a mild one. He knows when to encourage me to break out of my cocoon and play a little. He also knows when to encourage our son to find something peaceful to do. He balances us out.
This balancing act reminds me that God planned this out from the beginning. It isn't haphazard that I, an extreme introvert, ended up with an extreme extrovert for a son. It isn't chance that we are blessed with a family leader who can balance our temperaments. God said, "For I know the plans I have for you" (Jeremiah 29:11). Though there are times I find my son's extroversion frustrating, it's easier to be patient with him because I know he was given specifically to me and my husband for a purpose.
And he is a wonderful blessing who brings great joy. He makes me smile because he finds friends everywhere we go. He makes me laugh when he breaks the ice in awkward situations. He makes me proud when he unabashedly shares his faith in God with classmates, friends, or strangers. I often find him beatboxing, see him dancing to music, or hear him make up his own songs. Although these things can irritate my introverted nature, they also teach me. My son's extroversion reminds me to be myself as God made me, encourages me to share my faith with others, and shows me how to find joy in the little things in life.
We must remember that no person, whether extrovert or introvert, is ideal. We are all fallen sinners originally created in the image of God; we have some of God's wonderful qualities, but we have been corrupted by sin. My husband and I are responsible for helping our son stretch his "rubber band" personality so that he can be his best extrovert. He needs more help learning to plan, prepare, and be persistent. We'll need to teach him when to exercise caution and when risk-taking is appropriate. We're also helping him increase his capacity for quiet activities.
We also need to teach him how to work well with introverts and recognize the value in everyone God creates. After all, God made us all "wonderfully complex" with marvelous workmanship (Psalm 139:14). My son's future teammates, roommates, co-workers, wife, and children will need him to be considerate of their temperaments. If he can work well with introverts, it may increase his chances of success. In fact, some of the most successful partnerships have been introverts paired with extroverts. As Cain notes in Quiet, Moses with Aaron and Rosa Parks with Martin Luther King, Jr., are two examples of this. I hope that my husband and I are a model for our son.
There are plenty of practical ways we can teach our son to be his best extrovert. We can teach him persistence by encouraging him to finish what he starts (like that half-finished Lego set that's been sitting on the coffee table for three weeks). We can teach him about caution and risk-taking and help him hone his leadership abilities through sports. We can help him practice thinking before he speaks. As loving parents, we will do all these things and many more. But the Bible tells us there is one effort that should take priority over all others in raising our children. We are to "bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). Our ultimate goal is to raise our children to be godly adults.
Allowing God to Work
We're not alone in our efforts. If we follow God's command to teach our children about him, God promises to work on their salvation and sanctification. He molded the apostle Peter, the ultimate extrovert, into the leader of the church through Jesus' earthly ministry and the blessing of the Holy Spirit. In the same way, the Holy Spirit will help turn my son into a godly man and an extraordinary extrovert. While we see our children's outward behaviors and try to correct them (as Jesus did with Peter), the Holy Spirit is working on their hearts, changing them from the inside.
Our efforts and the Holy Spirit's are complementary and they will bear fruit. But the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—doesn't just pay spiritual dividends. It is evident in all aspects of our lives. The Lord blessed my son with a temperament that is abundant in joy and kindness, but he often struggles with faithfulness and self-control. The Holy Spirit will help him develop a faithful prayer life and bless him with the self-control to stop running in the house. But my son isn't the only one learning in this situation. God is working on my sanctification as well. My son's temperament has tested my patience and gentleness many times and the Holy Spirit is at work refining me. I think some fruit is already evident. As I sit at my desk writing this, I can hear my son beatboxing in the living room. I am unbothered and he is working on that half-finished Lego set.
DeAnna Acker is a wife, a mother, and a freelance writer. After graduating from West Point, she served as a U.S. Army Military Intelligence Officer and deployed to Iraq. Her second career was as an inner-city school teacher, but these days she prefers teaching in the children's ministry at her church in Tennessee.