Student Life

How to manage roommate conflict

Move-in day has come and gone. Syllabi are stacking up. Your student has scoped out every dining hall and caffeine dispensary. And the excitement of having a new roommate is starting to wane.

Whether your student is living with a best friend, an acquaintance, or a total stranger, there are bound to be issues. Dealing with conflict responsibly and directly will cut down on long-term stress for your student, as well as strengthen relationships. Encourage your student to do the following when living with roommate(s):

Practice consideration — be forgiving. No two people share all the same habits, preferences, or needs. Being courteous from the start will go a long way to preventing blow-ups later in the semester. If your student calls to complain about a roommate’s dirty dishes or loud snoring, it may be time to gently remind him that he has his own foibles. He may need some help recognizing that his night-owl tendencies are hard on his roommate who has a bunch of 8 a.m. classes. Compromise is key.

Communicate clearly. Ideally, roommates establish ground rules about noise, visitors, and cleanliness early on and talk about small differences before they become big ones. But it’s never too late to talk things through.

If your student is feeling fed up, encourage him to check in with the roommate. You can coach him to choose words carefully since this will set the tone for the conversation. He should avoid “never” or “always,” and use “I” statements. For example, instead of saying, “You always throw parties and leave our place trashed,” your student might say, “I get frustrated when I have to pick up our place after your parties, especially when I wasn’t even here.”

Think bigger. College is a transitional and often challenging time for everyone. Before your student confronts his roommate in anger, tell him to stop and think about what else might be going on in his roommate’s life. An uncommunicative roommate could be homesick. A messy roommate could be having a hard time adjusting to all his new responsibilities.

Stay cool. When stressful times hit during the semester, your student may be more prone to lose it with his roommate. Encourage him to find healthy ways to deal with stress, like working out, listening to music, and spending time alone. He’ll feel better, and a more balanced perspective will help in all his relationships.

Know when to ask for help. Every residence hall has a Resident Assistant (RA) trained to mediate roommate issues (and provide any other support your student might need). Encourage your student to talk to the RA early — it’s always best to address issues when they’re still minor. In the case of a bigger conflict, the RA can work with the roommates to draw up a contract that they will both need to commit to.

Know when to quit. If problems persist even after good-faith attempts to fix them, and if the roommate situation threatens to derail your student’s academic success and personal well-being, it’s probably time for a new living arrangement. The RA can help your student understand what steps to take, and the Office of Residential Life can answer your own questions about the process.

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