Are Shy Children Unnoticed in Classrooms?

shy student

I hate to admit that, in 36 years as an educational consultant and nine as a radio host responsible for finding topics to explore, I hadn’t given shy children any thought – until I came across a book called Quiet at School: An Educator’s Guide to Shy Children. That’s when it occurred to me that not only do shy children have unique challenges in classrooms; also, those challenges are mostly known only to the children themselves.

And that, of course, is the crux of the matter. If the squeaky wheel gets the grease, the kids with “louder,” more disruptive issues are going to get the teacher’s attention. In the meantime, shy children sit silently struggling.

With that in mind, I invited Quiet at School co-author Robert Coplan to talk with me on Studentcentricity. Educator Melanie Taylor joined us.

We talked about the most common indicators of shyness in children, and how they might look different from early childhood to adolescence. And I asked Rob about the teacher’s natural inclination to encourage children to speak up more and raise their hands to answer questions. Is that actually the way to help shy children succeed in school?

Following our discussion, Melanie wrote, “Every student deserves a classroom environment that validates their voice and gives them choice [in] how to participate.”

Rob summed up:

For many children, it is a common experience to feel somewhat wary or nervous when meeting unfamiliar people or encountering new situations. However, extremely shy children routinely experience fear and anxiety in social contexts to a degree that hinders their abilities to interact with other children. Moreover, the day-to-day demands of the classroom (e.g., working in groups with classmates, being called upon by the teacher to answer a question, presenting in front of the class) often represent significant causes of stress for shy children at school. Historically, shy children have been largely ignored, particularly as compared to their peers who display more externalizing problems (such as aggression, bullying, and deficits of attention). Despite an increase in research on shyness, shy children are still not well understood by teachers and other school personnel. In our new book Quiet at School: An Educator’s Guide to Shy Children (Teachers College Press), we provide an overview of how shyness develops and the unique challenges faced by shy children at school, as well as a detailed discussion of research-based best practices for improving shy children’s social, emotional, and academic functioning at school.

Naturally, most people view shyness as a deficit. But Rob insists it isn’t and that there are positive aspects to shyness in the classroom. To hear what they are, along with his and Melanie’s tips for teaching shy children, clickhere.

You might also like to read “Why Shyness Is Not a Disorder or Deficit in Kids,” written by a counselor and educator who happens to be the parent of two shy children.

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