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Solving Roommate Conflicts

Ask anyone who’s had to live with roommates, and they’ll probably have at least one horror story about the experience. The fact is that while roommates are often chosen–unlike, say, family members–this doesn’t make them any easier to live with. By mid-fall, college freshmen are settled into the routine of their schedules and figuring out college life. It is also the time when the “honeymoon” period is over with roommates. The ability to cope with resulting roommate problems can make a big difference in a student’s ability to succeed in college.

Most college freshmen are living in cramped dorm rooms, often sharing sleeping space for the first time in their lives. There is an excitement and desire to get along in the first weeks of school, but as time goes on, roommates begin to notice annoying habits about each other. One likes to party every night; the other is an introvert that likes it quiet. One never picks up a mess; the other wants things tidy. One displays confidence and makes all the decisions; the other avoids confrontation. Or worse-they are both strong Type A personalities.

Successfully and satisfactorily handling roommate conflicts is just one of many college-readiness skills that students need in order to have a successful college experience. How students handle the conflicts they face with roommates depends a great deal on how they were taught to handle conflict growing up at home. The student that goes to college prepared to talk out differences and compromise are the students that have the best roommate experiences and a better college experience.

When college roommates discover they really don’t like each other, the first idea that comes to many of them is: I’ve got to change rooms. Resident hall assistants (RAs) hear such requests every semester, and it often is a request that cannot be granted. RAs also encourage roommates to talk out their differences, but if those students did not come to college with conflict resolution skills, those skills don’t suddenly materialize.

The time to prepare for handling conflicts is when the student is still living at home. How does your family resolve conflicts? However you answer that question, is most likely how your young adult will handle conflicts away from home. If your children know they are expected to talk things out, if they know they do not always get what they want, and if they understand compromise, they will have experience in the skills they will need to see them through a roommate conflict.

If your college students calls complaining of roommate differences, remind them of how they settled things at home. Encourage them to listen, compromise, and resolve the issue so that the roommates can make it through the school year. Remind your student that roommates do not have to be best friends. Living in a dorm room is a finite situation, but learning to peacefully resolve conflicts is a skill that will carry far beyond college. It is definitely a skill essential to college success.

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