Shy children may be at a disadvantage in the classroom, in part due to their shyness, but also as a result of how they are perceived by their teachers. “Teachers’ attitudes and beliefs directly and indirectly influence children’s social, emotional, and academic development,” said Robert J. Coplan of the Department of Psychology at Carleton University, and lead author of a new study exploring shyness in the classroom. “Moreover, teachers’ beliefs about children’s social characteristics may influence their inferences about other child traits, such as intelligence and academic skills.”
Classroom participation, a vital part of the learning experience, is often minimal for shy children. “In younger children, shyness appears to manifest itself primarily as fear and hesitancy when encountering new people and novel situations,” said Coplan. “For older children, shyness is also expressed as embarrassment and self-consciousness in situations in which they perceive themselves as being socially evaluated.” Additionally, shy children are at increased risk for anxiety that could interfere with their academic performance and result in internalizing and decreased self-esteem. “Compared with their more boisterous, active, and aggressive counterparts, quiet children may be less disruptive to classroom functioning.” Coplan added, “Indeed, teachers may even encourage shy behaviors because they maintain order in the classroom.”
For his study, Coplan asked elementary school teachers to report their perceptions of both shy and outgoing children depicted in vignettes. “Overall, teachers reported markedly different patterns of responses and beliefs toward children who varied from overly quiet to overly talkative,” said Coplan. “Perhaps our most striking findings concerning shyness were observed with regard to teachers’ inferences about the characteristics of quiet children outside of the social realm. To begin with, teachers reported that shy/quiet children had poorer verbal skills and would perform worse academically in their class compared with exuberant and average children.”
Coplan believes that this perception could cause the children themselves to believe that they are incapable of achieving academic success. “Although teachers already appear to recognize shyness as a potential risk factor for negative consequences at school, further understanding about the development of shyness could help teachers better comprehend the possible dissonance that exists between perceived and actual intelligence and academic abilities among shy children.”
Coplan, Robert J., Kathleen Hughes, Sandra Bosacki, and Linda Krasnor-Rose. “Is Silence Golden? Elementary School Teachers’ Strategies and Beliefs regarding Hypothetical Shy/quiet and Exuberant/talkative Children.” Journal of Educational Psychology103.4 (2011): 939-51. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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