It's normal for incoming freshmen to be anxious about their roommates. So, what should you say when your student has a roommate meltdown?
Take a cue from residence hall directors. Here's what they say to students to help those roommate relationships go smoothly:
Don't judge your roomie by their Facebook page
Many students, before they even meet, look their roommate up on Facebook and start freaking out about the posts they see.
Save the judgment. You'll learn a lot more about your roommate when you meet in person.
And if your roommates are quite different from you, that can be fine. Sometimes roommates actually butt heads more if they're too much alike.
"The most important thing is to realize that every family and every person is different," says Luanne Goffnett, hall director at Barnes Hall since 1991. "Some students expect their roommates to be just like them, but of course they're not. In my family, we talk problems out. Other families yell. Some just pretend problems don't exist. Be ready for differences."
Talk, talk, talk
Communicate with each other. If you start early, it makes it easier the rest of the year. Go to the dining center together. Decide that Tuesday at 6 p.m. is roommate dinner night.
Lay some ground rules
The resident assistants will help with that, using roommate agreements all will sign.
Decide how late you want to have friends over and what time the lights go out. Set up a bathroom cleaning schedule. It's there in writing, so if a problem arises, the first thing the RA will do is pull out the roommate agreement and see what everybody agreed to.
Don't ignore the roommate agreement — it's a great tool.
Speak up early about little things that bother you
If you don't say anything for weeks about hating hair in the sink, when you do say something, you'll snap in anger. Say it kindly from the beginning, rather than waiting until you're angry about it.
If you don't know how to bring it up, you can always get some suggestions from your RA.
Give your roommate a chance before assuming you have to move out
Is three days really long enough to get to know someone? Of course not. Most problems can be worked out. Hall directors don't end up moving many people, but there are a few. And when it happens, they understand.
Don't deal with issues through social media
"I can't emphasize this enough," Goffnett says. "Talk to your roommate face-to-face if you have a problem. Don't post about it on Twitter or Facebook. The problem just builds and builds and a mole hill turns into a mountain. A little bit of real communication often clears it right up."
Prepare to change your sleep habits
"You might suddenly be sleeping with white noise or music or more light than you're used to," Goffnett says. "Headphones are key to roommate happiness. And you might want a sleep mask."
Don't choose a roommate based on personality, but choose based on living habits
"You can always go visit your best friend down the hall," Goffnett says. "If cleanliness is a major thing for you, live with someone who's neat."
Problems? Talk to your roommate about it first. If that doesn't work, go to your RA.
Parents don't typically get involved in roommate disputes, but you're welcome to call the residence hall director. They're happy to talk to parents, and give them advice on what they should tell their students. But at the end of the day, they're not solving the problem with the parent — they're solving it with the student.
Tell your son or daughter these problem-solving skills are tools they'll need their whole lives. Someday, when they don't get along with a co-worker, they can't just switch jobs. They'll have to work things out.
"Don't just blindly side with your child," Goffnett says. "Ask them what their role in the dispute is. How they might change their behavior."
Roommates don't have to be best friends. But they might be. Lots of CMU roommates remain friends for life.