KIDS
September 17, 2012

The Shy-Kid Disadvantage

Children who are quiet or withdrawn may not reap the same benefits of education as the outgoing ones. The remedy?

Much attention is given to the academic problems that overactive children face, but a new study finds that shy or withdrawn kids may actually have more trouble in school, or at least in preschool. The new research found that shy children may fall “under the radar” and therefore be less likely to reap the benefits of their early education.

"Everybody wants their children to be ready for kindergarten, to know their ABCs and to be able to count, but they sometimes don't understand that having social and emotional readiness is equally important," said study author Rebecca J. Bulotsky-Shearer in a news release.

'It appears that while these children are not causing problems in the school, they are also not engaging in classroom activities and interactions, where almost all learning occurs during this age.'

She and her team looked at data from over 4,400 children in a Head Start Program. The kids, who were all prekindergarten age, were rated as “well adjusted, “adjusted with mild disengagement,” “moderately socially and academically disengaged,” “disruptive with peers,” “extremely socially and academically disruptive,” or “extremely socially and academically disengaged.”

Kids who were more shy or withdrawn had the worst academic skills and the least improvement throughout the year, compared to their more outgoing counterparts.

The reason for this may be a case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease. Shy, quiet children don't demand the attention the more boisterous children do. "Preschool children who are very introverted tend to 'disappear within the classroom,'" says coauthor Elizabeth R. Bell. “It appears that while these children are not causing problems in the school, they are also not engaging in classroom activities and interactions, where almost all learning occurs during this age.”

The other part of the problem is that kids on the other end of the spectrum – the more disruptive kids – are more visible. They’re also the ones who are more likely to be assigned behavioral interventions, though the withdrawn students may need them just as much. "There are many classroom-based interventions for children that are disruptive and acting out in the classroom," says Bulotsky-Shearer. "I think the children who show an extreme amount of shyness and are withdrawn are most at risk of getting missed."

The team hopes to look at other populations of kids in the near future – this study was done only in kids in the Head Start Program, which is typically for disadvantaged children – to see whether shy or withdrawn children in other demographics are handled similarly or differently. Meanwhile, they hope that these early results will make teachers more aware of the ways in which they interact with quiet kids, who may need just as much help or intervention as the very active.

The study was carried out at the University of Miami and published in the Journal of School Psychology.

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