“Speak up!”: An Examination of the Language Capacities of Children Displaying Various Forms of Social Withdrawal and Aggression


language, communication, development, childhood


Language serves as a mechanism through which children are able to interact and communicate with others. Thus, when children do not develop language at a typical pace, there may be cause for concern. The purpose of the current study was to examine the language production of children displaying various forms of social withdrawal (reticent, solitary-passive, and solitaryactive behavior) and children engaging in subtypes of aggression (relational, physical, and comorbid). Participants came from preschools operated by a large private university located in the intermountain region of the western United States (N = 220, Mage = 4.58, 53% female). We observed the participating children, and teachers and parents completed reports on the children's behaviors. Results revealed that reticent, solitary-passive, and solitary-active children produced less language compared to their nonwithdrawn peers. Further analyses revealed language differences between subtypes of social withdrawal. Physically aggressive children produced less language compared to nonaggressive children, and comorbid aggressive children produced more language compared to their nonaggressive, physically aggressive, and relationally aggressive peers. The discussion focuses on contextual and conceptual factors that may play a role in understanding the relation between language production, social withdrawal, and aggression.

Original Publication Citation

Clifford, B.N., Nelson, L.J., & Evans, C.A. (2020). "Speak up!": An Examination of the Language Capacities of Children Displaying Various Forms of Social Withdrawal and Aggression. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 66(1), 61-90. https://www.muse.jhu.edu/article/766085.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

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Merrill-Palmer Quarterly




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor