Success for the Excessively Shy College Student

Risks for the Shy College Student | The Being Well CenterTemperament: The excessively shy, “slow-to-warm-up” college student

Most of us as parents worry about our kids taking too many risks when they head off to college.  With greater opportunity and with parental supervision gone, will they drink too much, say “yes” when a joint is passed around the room, try cocaine, engage in unprotected sex with someone they barely know?

On college campuses today, the opportunity to make such risky choices is certainly there particularly for the highly approachable, the overly outgoing, the seemingly self-assured or the highly impulsive student with ADHD.

Daunting Challenges for the Shy College Student

However, for those students who are temperamentally at the opposite end of the approach-withdrawal continuum, college can present challenges that are just as daunting.

Just think about the number of new things and people they have to face and find some way to “warm up to”: a roommate with different routines and customs, a different bed, sharing a shower and toilet with others, using a laundromat, different foods prepared in different ways, an arrogant professor, a large lecture hall, too much information to learn no matter how hard you study, classes scattered across a large campus, dealing with others who are drunk or high, a schedule that changes every day the lack of solitude, different kids in every class, and meeting new people who are different geographically, ethnically, racially, religiously and in their sexual orientation are but a few of the more common “new things” that all students encounter on campuses all across the country.

For some “slow-to-warm-up” individuals, it’s just a matter of time before they finally settle in and adjust . . . maybe after a few days or a couple of weeks. During this time their stomachs might flip a few more times, their mouths might be a bit drier, or their palms a bit sweatier.

Parents of these individuals can rest assured that they’ll also be taking a giant step backward from some of the other more scary new things that they will encounter on campus . . . at least initially.

When Shyness turns to Anxiety

However, for more extreme “slow-to-warm-up” individuals, the sudden newness on multiple fronts at college can be overwhelming and downright devastating.

Shyness can progress to social anxiety and extreme isolation.  Novel courses, new concepts, new ways of doing the familiar, unusual and confusing directions, one new thing after another, all can precipitate panic.  The thought of going to a professor, teaching assistant or someone down the hall who has the same class to ask for help is simply out of the question!  Unfortunately, since one day’s work builds on the previous day, it’s easy for them to quickly get behind the 8-ball with nowhere to turn.

Many respond by withdrawing even further . . . shutting it down and going to bed well before their roommate.  Out of sight out of mind.  Sleeping in and missing class.  Hanging out in their room eating junk food while obsessively playing video games or watching TV.  Lying to themselves (and you) about how it’s really going.

Helping Shy Students Toward Success

There’s actually lots that can be done to help the “slow-to-warm-up” student adjust to and succeed at college.

However, they first must recognize and accept this part of their nature.

We can’t change a student’s basic temperament, but we can help them identify where it places them at risk and then brainstorm ways to mange, cope and work around this potential barrier.

The first step is to take the appropriate Confidence@College screener to see if there are aspects of your child’s temperament that place him/her at risk for college failure.  If so, contact us so we can help start moving things along a path to success.

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About cblmd

medical director of the being well center, ADHD expert, speaker, and author

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