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Are Shy Kids at an Academic Disadvantage in Preschool?

Are Shy Kids at an Academic Disadvantage in Preschool?A new study reveals that shy preschool children are at greater academic risk than their chatty and outgoing peers.

The study by researchers at the University of Miami shows that children displaying shy and withdrawn behavior early in the preschool year started out with the lowest academic skills and showed the slowest gains across the year.

“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-emotional readiness is equally important,” said Dr. Rebecca J. Bulotsky-Shearer, assistant professor of psychology and principal investigator of the study.

Behavioral problems in the classroom arise when there is a gap between the child’s developmental skills and the expectations of the school environment, according to the researchers.

The findings suggest that children who are shy in the classroom have trouble engaging and learning.

The study analyzes information from 4,417 prekindergarten children in the Head Start Program, ages 3 to 5, from a diverse population, living in a large urban district of the northeast.

Six profile types were used to describe the preschoolers:

  1. Well-adjusted
  2. Adjusted with mild disengagement
  3. Moderately socially and academically disengaged
  4. Disruptive with peers
  5. Extremely socially and academically disruptive
  6. Extremely socially and academically disengaged

The teachers assessed the emotional and behavioral characteristics, as well as the academic progress of each child, at three times during the preschool year.

The findings show that older kids and girls tended to be better adjusted, exhibited less behavioral problems, and had higher levels of social literacy, language and math skills.

“Preschool children who are very introverted tend to ‘disappear within the classroom,'” said Elizabeth R. Bell, a doctoral candidate in developmental psychology and co-author of the study.

“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 results also raise the possibility that children who are loud and disruptive may be more likely to get the teacher’s attention and benefit from specific educational strategies.

“There are many classroom-based interventions for children that are disruptive and acting out in the classroom,” said Bulotsky-Shearer. “I think the children who show an extreme amount of shyness and are withdrawn are most at risk of getting missed.”

The researcher hopes the new findings encourage the development of appropriate classroom interventions tailored to the needs of different children, as well as appropriate training and professional development for teachers, to help them identify children who need help in specific areas.

“This is especially important within early childhood programs such as Head Start, serving a diverse population of low-income children and families,” said Bulotsky-Shearer.

The findings were published online, in advance of print, by the Journal of School Psychology.

Source: The University of Miami

Shy child photo by shutterstock.

Are Shy Kids at an Academic Disadvantage in Preschool?

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Are Shy Kids at an Academic Disadvantage in Preschool?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 29 Aug 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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