Your college student may have a lot he needs or wants to share with you. There are a few things that you can do to make it easier for your student to share his experiences, and also some things you can do to make sure that you are really hearing what he wants or needs you to hear.
Here are some suggestions to help you get the most out of your conversations with your college student.
- Choose your time and place carefully – Of course, sometimes the best conversations happen when we least expect them and in unexpected places. Be open to those spontaneous moments. But consider creating time and space that will encourage your student to talk. Give her your full attention. Find some time to be together without a lot of other people around. Make space for good conversation.
- Ask the right questions, but do it carefully. There is a fine line between expressing your interest by asking questions and sounding as though you are prying. If the time seems appropriate, ask some open ended questions that can’t easily be answered with one word answers. Keep your questions general and let your student take the lead of where the conversation may go. Be willing to recognize if it feels as though this may not be the right time to pursue a conversation.
- Stop talking. That’s right, simply stop talking and start listening. In general, we are not always very good listeners. We jump in with quick advice. We plan in our head what we’ll say next and miss some of what’s being said to us. We think we know where the other person is going and we finish their thoughts. One of the best ways to encourage your student to talk to you is to be a quality listener. Talk less and listen more.
- Watch for cues. Take note not only of what your student is telling you, but also of the way he is telling it. Listen carefully to tone of voice. Watch his body language and facial expressions. Try to read between the lines.
- Clarify what you think you hear. Make sure that the message you think you get is really what your student was saying. Let her know what you think you hear her saying and ask whether you are right. There will be less room for misunderstandings.
- Acknowledge and affirm the experience. Let your student know that you appreciate his willingness to share with you. If necessary, ask to return to the subject later when you’ve had time to think about it. The more positive the conversational experience is, the more likely it will be to happen again another time.
As a college parent, patience may be the first quality that you will need as you build conversations with your student. But let your student know that while you are willing to be patient, you hope he’ll let you know about how things are going. Then work to practice the communication skills we’ve suggested. You may be surprised about how much you’ll be able to hear from your college student.