Education and Human Sciences, College of (CEHS)


Date of this Version



A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Educational Psychology, Under the Supervision of Professor Kathleen M. Rudasill. Lincoln, Nebraska: August, 2015

Copyright (c) 2015 Sara Elizabeth Swenson


This study explored preschool teachers’ perceptions of their interactions with shy children in the classroom. A qualitative phenomenology was chosen to capture the experiences of the teachers and gain an understanding of the phenomena they experience in the classroom.

Shyness refers to an individual’s feelings of uneasiness or hesitation when faced with a novel or unfamiliar situation (Coplan and Armer, 2007). With about 40% of children being shy (Caspi, Edler, & Bem, 1988; Lazarus, 1982; Zimbardo, 1977) and with increasing numbers of children enrolling in preschool, looking at how shy children are perceived is key to beginning to understand how to help shy children feel more comfortable and succeed both academically and socially.

The central research question for this study was: How do preschool teachers perceive their interactions with shy children? Ten teachers were interviewed, observed, and kept daily journals about their thoughts and feelings regarding their interactions with a shy child, whom they identified, in the classroom setting. From these data, four themes emerged. These themes included: teacher doubts and frustrations, teacher support, limited engagement, and teacher influence.

The essence of the study was that teachers perceived their interactions with shy children to be important for children’s development. Teachers reported having difficulties reaching out to shy children and the interactions were often strained. Teachers also reported using specific strategies and had certain responsibilities to engage shy children. Overall, teachers felt that shy children are unique and need special attention in the classroom, although they had doubts about their abilities to engage them in classroom activities.

Currently, there is little research concerning the way that teachers perceive their interactions with shy preschool children. This exploratory study captured some of the experiences of preschool teachers as they work with shy children. This study also has implications for teacher training and learning better strategies for interacting with shy children. However, more research is needed to explore the unique experiences that teachers have with shy children in the classroom.

Advisor: Kathleen M. Rudasill