Strategies for Strong Relationships

Graduating from Nebraska
Build a Strong Relationship

Parents have a great capacity to influence their students’ drinking behavior. The key characteristics of a successful dialogue include: communication, understanding the university environment and a positive relationship with your student. Remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint. You'll need to try multiple times and may need to use different methods over time.

The following 12 conversation strategies will help you tackle common issues in communicating with your student, build trust, and understand how to have meaningful and productive conversations with them.


When conflict arises, the healthy outcome is two winners. A person’s natural tendency is to fight to win. Remember, talking about alcohol with your sons and daughters should not be a fight or a battle of wills, or a conflict with opposing sides. It should be a discussion about values, safety, love, and respect. When this happens, there are only winners - regardless of what is said. When a parent goes into a conversation with this in mind, it creates the kind of environment where there will be only winners.

Appeal To Common Goals

Your student needs to be reminded that you’re on their side. Because they’re adults and moving on to college, family rules are more difficult to enforce. Setting one-sided rules and punishments is counterproductive. Engaging in a dialogue about common goals and how each of you can help attain these goals will be more effective for your student's transitions into adulthood than rules and punishments would be.

Take a Break

Agree to temporarily disengage from interacting if either person becomes emotional or punitive. Wait until both of you can talk in a calm, direct fashion. When the discussion turns into an argument or becomes emotional, explain that it’s best to calm down and start the discussion later.


Permit your student to speak without interruption. Listen to what they say, and don’t go into the conversation with an agenda. Be open and receptive to what’s said and respond to the things that you’re hearing — not the things you think need to be talked about.

Use Open-Ended Questions

College-aged students are notorious for one-word responses. Using closed-ended questions encourages those. Instead, use questions that begin with words like, “What do you think...?” or “How...?”.

Steer Clear of Vulnerabilities

Judiciously avoid talking about vulnerabilities or emotional sensitivities. If a conflict arises, it’s sometimes tempting to point out past behavior. However, now is not the time. This ruins communication and ultimately hurts your relationship with your child.

Verbalize Respect

Whenever you can and whenever it’s appropriate, convey respect to your student. Phrases like “I’m proud of you the way you...” or “I’ve always admired that about you.” are great ways to confer respect. By conferring respect, you are acknowledging that your child is becoming an adult while you are developing an adult relationship with them.

Own your Mistakes

Be willing to admit you are wrong and apologize. No one is perfect. If you’re willing to acknowledge a mistake or be self-critical, students see that as a sign of strength and approachability. Saying you’re sorry is a way of showing that you care. Don’t blame others, rather accept responsibility for your actions.

Offer Affirmations

When opportunities arise, don’t hesitate to give genuine compliments to your student. This is also a good time to verbalize respect. When students feel good about themselves, they’re more likely to open up and confide in you. This also shows them that you believe in them and trust them.

Avoid Debate

Sometimes conversations become structured so that people must defend their positions. The entire conversation degenerates into a mini-debate in which each person is looking for weaknesses in the other person’s argument. Try to keep the conversation productive and goal-directed. Don’t get side-tracked by the details of each other’s statements.

Stay Focused

Limit discussion to only the issue at hand. Make good eye contact and show that you are listening.

Timing is Everything

Choose an optimal time to bring up and discuss issues. Don’t do it when either of you is rushed or has another commitment at the moment.