Helping Your College Student Reduce Roommate Conflict

Roommate conflict is unavoidable.  Although, as parents, we hope that our college student will get along perfectly with his college roommate, it is an unrealistic hope.  Whenever individuals live closely together, some amount of conflict is inevitable.  Actually, a little bit of conflict is not necessarily a bad thing.  Students learn important skills as they learn to handle issues with their roommates.

However, even when we realize that some degree of conflict may be inevitable, and may possibly have beneficial effects, we hope that any conflict will be minimal.  There are some things, short of giving in on everything and putting up with anything, that students can do to minimize the issues that may arise between roommates.  If this is your student’s first time sharing a room and/or living with a larger group of people in close quarters, you may increase your student’s chances of having a good experience by helping her to think through some of the issues that might come up and how she will handle them. In an earlier post, we considered some things that your student might do to prepare for life with a roommate.  In this post, we’ll look at what your student might do to reduce conflict and how to handle inevitable conflict when it occurs.  In an upcoming post, we’ll examine some actual positive benefits of dealing with some conflict.

Here are a few things that your college student might consider to reduce potential conflict.

Thinking things through ahead of time:

  • Adjust expectations — If your student, or his roommate, has not shared a room before, there are bound to be some problems that will come up.  If your student is prepared for this to happen, he can be prepared to deal with issues.  Many students enter their college living experience expecting a perfect match and an ideal arrangement.  When issues arise they are taken by surprise and devastated that the relationship is not perfect.  Recognizing that issues are a normal part of a good relationship will help your student to take them in stride.
  • Don’t ignore problems — Your student should not be expected to ignore something that is bothering her or put up with something that is making her unhappy.  Pretending that a problem does not exist will not make it go away.  Dealing with the problem early will help it from growing and prevent resentment.
  • Have realistic expectations — Help your student remember that no one is perfect and any roommate will have some habits that may bother her.  Remind your student to leave the idealized picture of the perfect roommate behind and accept her new roommate for who she is.  (She may think, too, about what habits she may have that might annoy a roommate.)
  • Prioritize — Your student should think carefully about what issues truly matter to him; what is non-negotiable, and what might he be willing to let slide.  He should be prepared to compromise on some issues, but be able to explain clearly what he will not be able to ignore.
  • CommunicateGood communication between roommates can prevent many problems.  Some minor issues mushroom into major problems because the individuals have not discussed the situation.  Encourage your student to set up, and keep open, all lines of communication and to use all of his communication skills early and often.
  • Consider a roommate contract — Roommates may want to work together early in their relationship to write a roommate contract which spells out points of agreement.  They may include non-negotiable points, which may be very individual and will reflect their values.  Points might include noise level, cleanliness, overnight guests or visitors, presence of alcohol or drugs in the room, borrowing of personal belongings, etc.  Thinking through and discussing topics such as these early in the relationship, may prevent problems later.

When conflict arises:

  • Be prepared to negotiate — Your student should be ready to work with her roommate to find solutions to any problems.  This will need to be a collaborative effort.  Rather than setting up lines of defense, remind your student that the two-way process of working together will benefit everyone and make both roommates feel that they have a stake in the solution.
  • Define the problem specifically — The more specific that your student can be about the issues, or ask his roommate to be in describing an issue, the more likely the chances that both students will be able to find a solution.  When an issue is too broad, or too vaguely considered, it is difficult to confront.  As your student works to be specific about describing a problem, she may discover that the problem is really not a big as she had first thought, and that the solution may be simpler than she had considered.
  • Keep an open mind — Your student will need to remember that she may have some habits that will bother her roommate.  She will need to work at not becoming defensive if her roommate suggests that she change something.
  • Cool off before discussing something — If a specific situation or event has occurred that upsets your student, and she knows that it should be discussed, encourage her to wait a bit before she confronts her roommate.  She may need some time to reconsider, or choose her words carefully, or think about proposing a solution.  Conversations held in the heat of the moment often end badly.
  • Work with residence life staff — Most residence halls have Residence Assistants living on each floor or in each area.  These staff members are trained to help roommates work out issues.  If your student is experiencing a problem, encourage her, and her roommate, to talk to her RA and work with that person toward a solution.
  • Know when to call it quits — Although considering a move should not be a first option, and shouldn’t be considered until other avenues are exhausted, moving to another room may be a solution.  Your student may need to wait until an initial settling in period is over, or until a room opens up, but it is usually possible to move out of an unlivable situation.  If your student is certain that it will not be possible to work out a solution, he should work with his Residence Assistant and Residence Director to find an alternative living arrangement.

The adventure of living with a roommate is a big part of the college experience for many students.  Like so many of their experiences in college, some students will have a smoother path than others.  With some work ahead of time, some good communication skills, and an attitude of compromise, most students have a good roommate experience.  Some roommates become wonderful friends, and others have separate social circles, but enjoy living together.  As always, as a college parent, you may find that your most important task will be to listen carefully to what your student shares and then to encourage her to do whatever she can to make the experience a positive one.

Related Posts:

How to Help Your College Student Prepare for Living With a Roommate

Good Communication Can Be an Important Key to Your College Student’s Success

Communicating with Your College Student: Are You Listening?


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