Study: Shy kids not necessarily language challenged

A new study contradicts previous research suggesting that shy children have a hard time communicating. The study was done using 816 toddlers and found children who are shy tend to speak less, but do understand what is being said by their peers. This means these children have a hard time speaking to others, but are not lacking capability, suggesting that they may be less like to respond but not delayed in the understanding of language.

The study appears in the journal Child Development and was conducted at the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Connecticut.

Our findings suggest that inhibited behaviors like shyness don’t hamper language acquisition overall but instead relate specifically to how toddlers express themselves through words,” according to Ashley K. Smith Watts, graduate student, and Soo H. Rhee, associate professor of psychology, both of the University of Colorado, who were part of the research team.

Hannah Klein of Society for Research in Child Development reported that the study also found higher levels of shyness and language in girls, but the degree of shyness related to language development was similar in both genders.

Research was conducted using children in Colorado who were mostly white, but came from different socioeconomic backgrounds that represented the population of Boulder. The information was collected at 14, 20, and 24 months using parental reports and observation. During the assessment, researchers asked questions verbally and imitated sounds and words. They tested language comprehension by asking children to follow simple directions like picking up a ball and cup.

“Shy children may need help with developing their speaking abilities,” added Smith Watts and Rhee. “They may benefit from interventions that target confidence, social competence, and autonomy to support the development of expressive language. For example, caregivers can encourage them to be autonomous and arrange play dates with compatible peers.”

Matthew Mientka of Medical Daily shared that a new study suggests that children at this age may not speak due to “simple social fear”, and that despite the fact the child is not speaking there is more going on in the mind than one may realize. Soo H. Rhee, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Colorado says the findings imply that “behaviors like shyness don’t hamper language acquisition overall but instead relate specifically to how toddlers express themselves through words”.

When it comes to the possibility of intervention for shy kids, Smith Watts recommends play dates with compatible peers.  She said, “They may benefit from interventions that target confidence, social competence, and autonomy to support the development of expressive language,”.