How to Make Difficult Conversations more productive during the Holidays

The holidays are notoriously fraught with difficult conversations. Conversations about next semester, conversations about progress, choices, direction, expectations – the list goes on. Many of these conversations are bound to take place at the holiday dinner table.

We believe that these difficult conversations do not happen in isolation; students struggle to assert their new independence just as parents struggle to define their new role. While there are no standard protocols or rules of engagement applicable to every family, having a compassionate, productive agenda for how these conversations will take place may ease the holidays for students and parents.


Adulting – You are not a kid anymore, act like it. Your parents may be accustomed to treating you like a high schooler. Give them the opportunity to see you as more than that.

Limits – It is not in a parent’s job description to not ask questions. Your parents want to know everything and will ask. How you engage with them when they’re asking for more information than you want to give can direct the path of the conversation. By putting some limits on your own disclosure before you’re in the middle of it, you can simultaneously respect your parents’ desire to know as you bolster the independence you are nurturing. Of course, your Focus Collegiate Life Coordinator will work with you on this fine line of communication.  


Make space – Your student is not a kid anymore, treat them thus. Making space for their independence may call your role into question. That’s why we do parent coaching to help parents “get a new hobby.” Know that your support and acknowledgment are essential to student success.

Limits – Know your own limits and communicate them. You and your offspring are entering a new phase of your relationship. Which ways of relating still apply? Which are you willing to let go?

Students & Parents

Practice – What are you sore spots? By identifying them for yourself, you’ll be better prepared to handle them when they arise. Practice having a difficult conversation with a peer.

Stay Curious – Become curious rather than reactive. Note your feelings – what are their source? Learn how to live with, and even enjoy, learning from them and the uncertainty that accompanies their exploration.

Listen – Listening is not a passive endeavor. It takes time and energy to actively listen to understand, rather than to just respond. Make it by eliminating distractions (electronics, TV, chores) and focusing. Let your student/parent talk while you remain present and actively listening. Being heard is a huge gift for anyone. Give it.

Keep an Open Mind – Don’t jump to conclusions. You are not the same old you; your student/parent is not either. Be open to the possibilities this new version of your loved one presents.

Perspective – We all want the holiday visit to be pleasant and productive. In no time, school will resume. Make the most of your time together.

Freedom – Everyone at the table is trying to learn and get comfortable with their new role in life. Everyone deserves the freedom to stumble through this process. By embracing it, rather than fighting it, your relationship may very well deepen and grow.

Photo by The Joy of Film on Unsplash

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