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Children’s early onset of social anxiety may be associated with their social understanding, and their ability to express emotions adaptively. We examined whether social anxiety in 48-month-old children (N = 110; 54 boys) was related to: a) a lower level of theory of mind (ToM); b) a lower proclivity to express shyness in a positive way (adaptive); and c) a higher tendency to express shyness in a negative way (non-adaptive). In addition, we investigated to what extent children’s level of social anxiety was predicted by the interaction between ToM and expressions of shyness. Children’s positive and negative expressions of shyness were observed during a performance task. ToM was measured with a validated battery, and social anxiety was assessed using both parents’ reports on questionnaires. Socially anxious children had a lower level of ToM, and displayed more negative and less positive shy expressions. However, children with a lower level of ToM who expressed more positive shyness were less socially anxious. Additional results show that children who displayed shyness only in a negative manner were more socially anxious than children who expressed shyness only in a positive way and children who did not display any shyness. Moreover, children who displayed both positive and negative expressions of shyness were more socially anxious than children who displayed shyness only in a positive way. These findings highlight the importance of ToM development and socio-emotional strategies, and their interaction, on the early development of social anxiety.
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- Social Anxiety Symptoms in Young Children: Investigating the Interplay of Theory of Mind and Expressions of Shyness
Wieke de Vente
Susan M. Bögels
- Springer US