College Roommates

Ultimately, they will get to know each other and appreciate each other even if they don’t become best friends. They will learn to communicate and talk about the hard stuff while laughing at what will seem silly to them in the end. They will become skilled at negotiating and compromising.

These are the thoughts that swirled in my head as I met my daughter’s college roommate. This freshman year is a big one. Each new acquaintance means a hundredfold what they might mean to the rest of us who have been around the block a time or two. However, on this drop off day, my sensors, like my daughter’s, were heightened. Since that day, Jess and I have had several conversations about how to navigate the roommate situation. Eventually, because of my experience working with children and groups, she asked me to give her some tips.

In case you are not aware, I work primarily with young children, ages 3 – 10, many of whom come to our clinic for help in developing skills in social interactions. What could I offer Jess from that experience that would help her with an 18 year-old roommate? First, let me tell you a little about her roommate. She is very talkative. In fact, she talks most of the time without leaving space for anyone else to talk. She doesn’t ask Jess any questions, and if Jess begins to talk, Roommate’s response has little or nothing to do with the topic. As my daughter stated, “She starts talking without introducing a topic or even saying my name to see if I’m even listening.” When Jess is talking with others, Roommate comes in, stands too close, and interjects comments uninvited.She slammed the door, not in anger but unaware of the impact on another person, while Jess was sleeping, and yelled, “Bye Jess!”

Hmmmm… what advice could I offer? Surprisingly, a LOT. I suggested that she talk withRoommate to give her the following tips: Say a name before beginning a conversation and wait until the person is looking before talking. Ask a question, and ask another after hearing the response before telling your story. Look for body clues. If another person is reading, writing, has  headphones on, or sleeping, they may not want to be bothered. First ask if it’s OK to talk. If you are going to change the topic, tell the listener you plan to do so before diving in. When someone is talking to you, acknowledge that you heard him or her. When you are entering a group of people,don’t stand too close and wait for a break in the conversation or an invitation to join in. Let your facial expression mirror the talker’s. If a person is telling a funny story, laugh with her. If someone is telling a sad story, show compassion on your face.

Guess what? These are the very things we teach our young children to help them navigate the waters of social interactions. These are lifelong skills that can be used… and taught…at every age. My daughter is a very compassionate person and Roommate is smart and brave and willing to learn. I wish she had been taught these straightforward concepts at a younger age but I truly believe it’s never too late and these simple tips can open a world of relationships.

In the end, we are all looking forward to a successful year in which Jess and her roommate will be able to grow and learn with each other and they are off to a fine start.

By:  Jill Perry, MHA, MS, OTR/L

IMAGE:  Copyright : A. Singkham

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