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5 Tips for Helping your Student Navigate Conflict in College

UNC math students

Jennifer DeSousaJennifer DeSousa
August 12, 2019

Conflict is a normal and sometimes unavoidable part of life, particularly when adjusting to new surroundings and new people.  As part of your student’s transition to campus, they may reach out to you for support as they encounter conflicts with new roommates, classmates, or instructors.  All of us have been challenged to manage conflicts in our lives, yet navigating conflict can be difficult and uncomfortable—especially if we have not had much experience resolving it ourselves.

There are many ways to approach conflict—some approaches may escalate situations, while others may help diffuse it. Learning the art of skillfully navigating conflict takes time and practice. We have many resources here on campus ready to help your student develop those skills.

As your student’s support person, your student may reach out to you regarding conflict.  Below is a list of tips to help you assist your student through challenging situations:

1. Listen and Be Supportive

Your student is experiencing a lot of changes and new things. Often, your student just needs a safe space to download all that is happening in their lives. Just listen and know that is often all they need.

2. Encourage Self-Efficacy

As a parent/support person, it can be tough to step back while your student is struggling with something or someone. However, through conflict students can learn important skills and develop confidence in their own ability to navigate challenges in their lives. Allowing them to develop and practice conflict resolution skills will help them effectively manage future situations in college and in the workplace.

3. De-escalate the Situation

If your student is upset, it can be tempting to take on their emotional energy and meet them where they are.  However, this can escalate situations, which prevents them from being resolution-oriented. Try to take a step back and stay calm while exploring the source of the conflict alongside your student. It can help to remain distant enough from the situation to help your student see a bigger picture.

4. Brainstorm Possible Resolutions

Help your student think through possible ways to address the conflict and decide on a plan of action. Avoid telling your student what to do—instead ask questions that help them formulate a plan for themselves. Encourage them to be polite and direct in their strategies.  For example, ask your student: “How are you going to talk to your roommate about that situation?”

5. Offer Resources and Encourage Them to Seek Help.

UNC has a number of staff on campus who are trained to assist your student in navigating conflict.  If your student lives on campus, a Resident Assistant (RA), Community Assistant (CA), or Hall Director can give guidance and offer support throughout roommate conflicts. In addition, the office of Community Standards and Conflict Resolution (CSCR) is a great resource for any student seeking support. CSCR can help individuals better understand conflict styles and offers one-on-one conflict coaching, mediation, or facilitated dialogues. 

Remember that conflict is a regular part of life and navigating it successfully takes time and practice. While in college, your student will have a number of opportunities to practice conflict resolution and develop valuable interpersonal and employment skills. By supporting your student through conflict while allowing them to navigate it for themselves, you set them up for ongoing success at UNC, in their future career, and in life!