Social Skills, Not Vocabulary, Make A Shy Child Likeable

By assessing the language competency and social interactions of 164 preschoolers, researchers in Singapore have demonstrated that social skills rather than vocabulary improve the likeablility of shy children.

AsianScientist (Sep. 26, 2017) – Scientists in Singapore have discovered that shy children with low English vocabulary skills but high-functioning social communication skills can still be popular among their peers. They published their findings in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology.

Earlier studies have found that shy children tend to be less well-liked among their peers. Researchers have tried to identify factors which can buffer against the negative effects of child shyness and make shy children more well-liked by their peers, suggesting that good vocabulary skills and social communication skills may augment social popularity. However, the interaction between these two factors and how they may have a combined effect on children was unknown.

Contrary to existing assumptions that shy children with low vocabulary skills struggle with peer likeability, Assistant Professor Cheung Hoi Shan of the Yale-National University of Singapore College has demonstrated that as long as a shy child is equipped with high functioning social skills and able to react well across different social situations, the child’s poor vocabulary skills become inconsequential. The study involved the assessment of social skills, vocabulary and peer-likeability of 164 preschoolers between 52 and 79 months old in Singapore.

“Presumably, having a good expressive vocabulary, and by extension a good command of language, makes it easier for children to engage and interact with peers. However, we have found that the presence of a good vocabulary in a shy child offered no additional buffering effect for peer likeability if the child did not possess high-functioning social communication skills,” said Cheung.

“Conversely, shy children with poor vocabulary skills were assumed to be less likeable, but high-functioning social communication skills serve as an effective buffer against the presumed language disadvantage. The more shy a child was, the more pronounced the effect of social communication skills,” she added.

Traditionally, parents tend to focus on increasing a child’s vocabulary as the way to improve a child’s language and communication skills. The findings for this study, however, suggest that parents should consider placing more emphasis on developing a shy child’s social communication skills, instead of only looking to expand their vocabulary.

“Social communication skills such as making eye contact, ability to adapt and communicate in different situations can be taught deliberately, instead of leaving children to observe and pick up these skills on their own,” Cheung explained. “Parents of shy children may want to consider developing such skills in their children so that they can learn how to better engage with their peers, helping them to develop meaningful relationships despite their shyness.”.

Associate Professor Elliott of the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, who was a co-author of the study, highlighted the impact of culture and the local context on the study.

“It turns out that being a shy child in Singapore is not quite the negative thing it is often thought to be in places like the United States, which have strongly individualistic cultures. In Singapore, it may be considered quite appropriate, and need not diminish the child’s popularity among peers, if the child has good social communication skills,” he pointed out.

Elliott added that because patterns of parenting are not the same everywhere, studies on language command and social skills must be calibrated to the local context. He hopes the research can be taken forward in the direction of further investigating local parenting practice and its effect on child socialization.

The article can be found at: Cheung & Elliot (2017) Child Shyness and Peer Likeability: The Moderating Role of Pragmatics and Vocabulary.


Source: Yale-NUS College; Photo: Shutterstock.
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