The holidays are coming and college students are heading home for break. The holidays are busy times, and students probably have plans to spend time catching up with friends and perhaps working to earn some extra cash. However, this may also be an ideal opportunity to spend some time catching up with your student and hearing more about how the college experience is going.
Your college student may have a lot they need or want to share with you. Of course, they may not want to talk about their semester, and you may need to do some encouraging. But your student may have things they’d like to share — good or bad. There are a few things that you can do to make it easier for your student to share their experiences, and also some things you can do to make sure that you are really hearing what they want or need you to hear.
Here are six suggestions to help you get the most out of your conversations with your college student while they’re home on break.
- Choose your conversation time and place carefully — Of course, sometimes the best conversations happen when we least expect them and in unexpected places. Be open to those spontaneous moments. But think, too, about creating time and space that will encourage your student to talk. Give them your full attention. Find some time to be together without everyone else around. Make space for good conversation.
- Ask the right questions — very carefully. There is a fine line between expressing your interest by asking questions and crossing into what might seem to your student like an inquisition. If the time seems appropriate, ask some open ended questions that can’t easily be answered with one word answers. Keep your questions general and let your student take the lead of where the conversation may go. Ask follow up questions carefully. Be willing to recognize if it feels as though this may not be the right time to pursue a conversation.
- Stop talking. That’s right, simply stop talking and start listening. In general, we are not always very good listeners. We jump in with quick advice. We plan in our head what we’ll say next and miss some of what’s being said to us. We think we know where the other person is going and we finish their thoughts. One of the best ways to encourage your student to talk to you is to be a quality listener. Give your full attention. Nod or make encouraging sounds. Let your student finish their thoughts and then just wait a bit to see if more will come. Talk less and listen more.
- Watch for cues. Take note not only of what your student is telling you, but also of the way they are telling it. Listen carefully to tone of voice. Watch body language and facial expressions. Nonverbal cues can tell us a lot about what excites someone, what worries them, what makes them angry. Try to read between the lines.
- Clarify what you think you hear. Make sure that the message you think you get is really what your student was saying. Don’t assume. Ask them to be more clear or to add more information. Let them know what you think you hear them saying and ask whether you are right. If you are right, they’ll feel good that you’ve heard and registered it. If you’re wrong, they’ll have an opportunity to be more clear. There will be less room for misunderstandings.
- Acknowledge and affirm the experience. Let your student know that you appreciate their willingness to share with you. Try as hard as you can not to judge or argue right now. Affirm their connection to you, and your appreciation for sharing. If necessary, ask to return to the subject later when you’ve had time to think about it. The more positive the conversational experience is, the more likely it will be to happen again another time.
Your college student may not want to talk a lot about their college experiences right away. They may want to keep that portion of their life separate from home life. As a college parent, patience may be the first quality that you will need. But let your student know that while you are willing to be patient, you hope they’ll let you know about how things are going. Then work to practice the communication skills we’ve suggested. You may be surprised about how much you’ll be able to hear from your college student.