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How to Respond When Things Get HardJennifer Sullivan
Maya is upset because she’s fighting with her roommate all of the time. They can’t agree on cleaning up, having overnight guests, or playing loud music.
Sam is in a bad mood because he thought he'd made some close friends in his first weeks at college, but now they argue about politics all of the time and can’t seem to get past their different viewpoints.
Clinton just can’t seem to find common ground with his history professor. They disagree about what makes a good enough excuse for handing an assignment in late.
Toni and her mother argue on the phone almost every time they talk. Her mom wants Toni to come home on weekends and Toni wants to stay on campus to spend time with her friends.
All four of these students are experiencing conflict. They came to college to have new experiences and to meet new and different kinds of people, but negotiating those differences has created problems.
One reason these students may be upset by the conflict they are experiencing is because they didn’t anticipate it. Conflict can be as simple as not agreeing with someone or as complex as an all-out, long-lasting dispute. These students need to understand that some conflict is inevitable.
According to psychologist and writer Kenneth Kaye, “Conflict is neither good nor bad. Properly managed, it is absolutely vital.” The goal is not necessarily to eliminate all conflict, but rather to see it as a natural, healthy process and to manage it.
If your college student is experiencing conflict — if any of the scenarios above sound even a little bit familiar — it is important to talk with your student about it
Sometimes, the problem isn’t the conflict itself, but how we approach it that can cause issues. Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann, two professors at the University of Pittsburgh analyzed five ways of approaching conflict. Your student may find that one of the following five approaches might help. The key is thinking about how much you want to get your own way (being assertive) and how much you are willing to let the other person get their way (cooperativeness).
Think about these five approaches to conflict and how they might work in each of the scenarios above. There is no correct solution, but the outcomes could be very different.
Although it's important to talk to your college student about accepting some conflict as normal and about taking different approaches to conflict, it may also be necessary to help your student take immediate action. Here are some suggestions:
On the subject of respect, your student should be more formal in how they go about requesting a meeting with a professor and how they conduct themselves during a conversation than they might be when communicating with a peer.
Although we don’t like to see our students unhappy or stressed, a little conflict can actually be a good thing. Difficult situations can help students build communication and strategy skills, define their values more clearly, learn how to negotiate, and practice flexibility. Finding a solution to a difficult situation can be extremely satisfying.
Sometimes, students may just need to move on. They may need to make new friends, change roommates, take a class with a different professor next time, or learn to say no to family. As parents, when we encourage our students but stay out of the fray, we can take pride in watching them learn to take control of their own lives and continue to grow.
When your college student starts their first semester, it’s not just a big deal for them. It’s a big deal for you, too. Get the First Semester Guide for College Parents now!