The world is full of stories of wildly successful people who were also shy and awkward kids. This long list of introverted leaders shows it's entirely possible for even the quietest among us to rise to the top of their fields, but a good outcome is not guaranteed.

Those prone to social anxiety or who require lots of alone time to recharge need to learn how to navigate their quiet tendencies and leverage their personal strengths in order to make the most of their potential. It's best to get started early. Parents can help.

That's the takeaway of a useful new Washington Post article by James Paterson that examines the challenges faced by introverted children, as well as their unique gifts. Paterson talks to a variety of experts about how parents can best help their quiet kids thrive. The whole piece is well worth a read if you're raising an introverted little one, but here are a few of the main tips, boiled down for time-strapped parents.

1. Nudge, don't push.

Yes, it is your job to encourage your kid to expand his or her comfort zone, but do so with kindness. Where is the line between pushing your child too hard and nudging them gently towards being more social? None of the experts Paterson spoke to could offer a hard and fast rule. Instead, they instruct parents to pay attention and feel their way forward.

Parents who carefully observe their children's cues will "intuitively understand when and how to encourage their children to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zone," Linda Silverman, the director of the Gifted Development Center, claims.

2. Provide opportunities for practice.

"Give your child safe places to try being more outgoing, and allow them to get comfortable with it," Quiet authors Susan Cain advises. That might mean suggesting your quiet son explain his latest interest to a family friend or asking your introverted daughter to order her own food when you go out to eat.

3. Help them find their thing.

Pretty much no one is awkward and shy in every situation. Even the most introverted have certain activities or situations where they feel totally at home -- whether that 's playing a particular sport, shining on stage as a musician, or losing yourself in a beloved pastime. The experts Paterson spoke to stress the importance of helping your child find his or her special place of comfort by encouraging (or even requiring) them to try new activities.

4. Plan social events carefully

You know that birthday party is going to stress your child out, so make sure you do everything possible to lessen that anxiety. That can mean arriving early before the crowd, scouting for ways to take a quiet break if your kid is getting overwhelmed, or discussing ways to extricate yourselves from the event if it all gets to be too much in advance.

"Escapes and backup plans are essential so the child doesn't feel trapped," insists Silverman.

5. Provide the right kind of structure at home.

With their ability to get lost in their thoughts, introverted kids can sometimes forget about shared activities and responsibilities like chores or family dinners. For this reason, creating a structure to their days and holding them to it is important. But it has to be the right kind of structure.

"Work with them to develop a plan for the evenings. Include time reading or on the computer, but also a chore that requires thought beyond their private world and perhaps social interaction," recommends Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert's Way.

Published on: May 26, 2017
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