Campus News

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News Release

February 27, 2003

Kids shyer than parents, teachers perceive, study finds

Children may be a lot shyer than their parents or teachers think, research by a University of Guelph professor reveals.

Psychology professor Mary Ann Evans studied more than 400 children in grades 5 and 6. She had them describe their shyness, classroom environment and sense of independence, self-assertiveness and awareness of their strengths and limitations. She also distributed questionnaires to the parents and teachers of each child, asking them to rate the child’s behaviour and level of shyness.

The findings indicated that about 25 per cent of children report themselves as being shy, with girls being more likely to see themselves as shy than boys. But about one-third of the children who rated themselves as shy were not characterized as shy by their parents or teachers, regardless of gender. “Many teachers and parents don’t pick up on these internalized thoughts and feelings,” said Evans, who worked with graduate students Andrea Spooner and Renata Bzdyra on the study.

But more importantly, the study also revealed that these children have lower self-esteem than do children whose shyness was recognized by their parents or teachers. It also disclosed other differences between shy and non-shy children, including the feeling among shy children that external factors such as fate have more impact on life. Shy children also displayed a less- developed and less-expressive vocabulary and reported being more bothered by loud noise and more sensitive to bright lights and pain than non-shy kids their age. “These children are more sensitive both in physical dimensions and behaviourally in terms of how they feel about being conspicuous,” Evans said.

She and Spooner, who presented their research to the International Society for the Study of Behavioural Development in Ottawa and will report on the findings to the Society for Research in Child Development in Florida in April, recommend acknowledging shyness and respecting individual differences. “Shy children will become more comfortable in a variety of new situations if there is someone there who is sensitive to their needs, without drawing attention to their shyness,” Evans said.

Addressing shyness early can help people avoid health difficulties such as social anxiety disorder, depression, gastrointestinal problems or low self-esteem, she added. These outcomes, shown by other researchers to be associated with shyness, can appear later in life, often to people with established careers and families. “The study is helping parents and teachers develop better communication strategies with children to bring them into conversations, and it’s giving them more information on the topic,” she said.

The research is sponsored by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Evans became interested in studying shyness while conducting research on children’s behaviour in the classroom. “Part of that research focused on show-and-tell, and during the course of that study, I noticed that some children rarely participated in show-and-tell or rarely raised their hands up at all. I realized then that there was a whole group of children who were not being included in our data because they didn’t say much in class.”

Mary Ann Evans, Department of Psychology
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 53080

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