Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Shyness, Sibling Relationships, and Young Children's Socioemotional Adjustment at Preschool

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Shyness, Sibling Relationships, and Young Children's Socioemotional Adjustment at Preschool

Article excerpt

The purpose of this research was to examine the moderating role of sibling relationship quality in the associations between shyness and indices of socioemotional adjustment in an early childhood education context. Participants were 79 children ages 4 to 6 (M = 4.74 years) who had at least one sibling. Parents completed ratings of child shyness, sibling relationship quality was assessed with parent and child self-report, and teachers and children completed assessments of child socioemotional functioning at preschool. Among the results, shyness and sibling relationship quality uniquely predicted adjustment at preschool. In addition, positive sibling relationships moderated relations between shyness and indices of preschool adjustment. For example, among children with less positive sibling relationships, shyness was more strongly associated with indices of internalizing problems. In contrast, these associations were attenuated among children with more positive sibling relationships. Results are discussed in terms of the protective role siblings may play in shy children's socioemotional adjustment at preschool.

Keywords: preschool, social interaction, families, socioemotional learning


Shy children tend to be wary and anxious in social situations and are more likely to experience internalizing problems and difficulties in their peer relationships (Rubin, Coplan, & Bowker, 2009). However, results from recent studies suggest that the experience of positive relationships with "important others" (e.g., parents, teachers) may buffer shy children from negative adjustment outcomes in early education contexts (e.g., Arbeau, Coplan, & Weeks, 2010; Coplan, Arbeau, & Armer, 2008). To date, the potential protective role of the sibling relationship for young, shy children has not been considered. Sibling relationships provide an important and unique context for children's social and cognitive development (Brody, 1998). The goal of this study was to examine links between shyness, sibling relationships, and young children's adjustment in an early education context. In particular, we sought to explore the protective role of siblings in the socioemotional functioning of young, shy children at preschool.


Shyness refers to a temperamental disposition to be wary, fearful, and self-conscious when encountering novel social settings and situations of perceived social evaluation (Rubin et al., 2009). From a motivational perspective, shy children are thought to experience an approach-avoidance conflict, whereby their desire to approach others is simultaneously inhibited by social fear and anxiety (Coplan, Prakash, O'Neil, & Arrner, 2004).

Early education contexts appear to be particularly stressful for young, shy children (Rimm-Kaufman & Kagan, 2005). Coplan and Arbeau (2008) postulated that the presence of a large peer group, increased demands for verbal participation, and high child-to-staff ratio may exacerbate shy children's feelings of social fear and self-consciousness in early childhood school environments. In early education settings, young, shy children rarely initiate conversations and social contacts and tend to hover on the edges of social interactions without joining in (Bohlin, Hagekull, & Andersson, 2005; Coplan, Debow, Schneider, & Graham, 2009; Coplan, Prakash, et al., 2004; Rimm-Kaufman & Kagan, 2005). Moreover, shyness in early childhood is concurrently and predictively associated with a range of negative adjustment outcomes (see Rubin et al., 2009, for a recent review).

For example, young, shy children are prone to internalizing such problems as anxiety, loneliness, and lower self-esteem (Coplan et al., 2008; Coplan, Findlay, & Nelson, 2004; Sanson, Pedlow, Cann, Prior, & Oberklaid, 1996; Spinrad et al., 2004). As well, shyness in early childhood is associated with poor peer relations, including peer rejection, exclusion, and victimization (Chen, DeSouza, Chen,& Wang, 2006; Gazelle & Ladd, 2003; Perren & Alsaker, 2006). …

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