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Shy Kids May Be Able, But Not Willing to Speak

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Language delays are often diagnosed in children who are also very socially shy, but new research has found that shy toddlers may be acquiring language normally, but are less able to express themselves because of their shyness.  More from a release announcing the results:

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

“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.

The study also found that girls had higher levels of both shyness and language than boys. However, the degree to which shyness was related to language development was similar for girls and boys.

Researchers collected information from 816 children in Colorado who were primarily White but varied in socioeconomic status and who were representative of the population of Boulder. Information was collected at ages 14, 20, and 24 months through parent reports and by observing children during home and lab visits. The researchers assessed expressive, or spoken, language by asking children to imitate certain sounds and words (like /ai/ and “mama”), and by asking the children to answer questions verbally. They assessed receptive, or understood, language by asking children to follow instructions (“Give me the cup and ball”).

“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.”

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Image: Shy child, via Shutterstock

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