Want to Make a Difference This Summer? Mentor a Child

Think back. Depending on your age, way back. Was there someone in your life that took you under their wing, taught you a think or two, made an impression on you that you’ll never forget? That person was a mentor to you; in whatever area of your life you needed at the time.

Why not return the favor? Kids these days are starving for attention, guidance, leadership, role-models, instruction and acceptance in almost all areas of their lives: family, relationships, job/career skills, money, music, sports, communication. You name it and there’s more than likely a handful of young adults in your vicinity who could benefit from a little bit of your focused time and energy.

WHY MENTOR – Mentor’s perspective

Because it makes a difference. Because YOU make a difference. I remember a teacher named Pat Ingram who I took a course from in college called The Aesthetics of Human Movement. Our first invitation was to introduce ourselves with only our first name and something unique about us so as to give our classmates a glimpse into who we were as well as let her know who was in the room. I remember describing myself as “I am Elisabeth and I will never know what I want to do when I grow up.” Our first assignment was to go hug a tree and then turn in an assignment about the experience. We asked her in what form was the assignment to be done. She said, “You decide. It’s your assignment.” So I wrote a poem. 

What did I learn from Ms. Ingram? That our uniqueness was precious and that there was no one way to do anything. At 19, this mentor changed my entire view of the world and I’m eternally grateful. Between having a Mom who said I could do anything and this lady who showed me that every way was A way, I have thrived.

Mentor because you have information to share. Mentor because you have a philosophy that can set a child up for success. Mentor because it will remind you what’s important in life. Mentor because there’s a child who needs you. Mentor because it will simply make you feel great!

WHY MENTOR – Child’s Perspective

  • Improves their self-confidence
  • Improves their attitude
  • Increases their interest in staying in school
  • Gives them an interest they may not have realized they had
  • Shows them what they DO and DO NOT want to do in life 
  • Improves their ability to relate to others (peers and family)
  • Decreases the likelihood of getting into drug or alcohol use or delinquent behavior
  • Teaches them distinct skills they can use for the rest of their lives which in turn, increases their self-esteem and confidence
  • Can help them learn to be a team player

Here’s a great video for kids about why having a mentor is a great thing…


Will You Make A Good Mentor?

Good mentors possess the following qualities:

  • Able to make a time commitment. If you think you’re too busy now, find a child to mentor. For some reason you will find yourself working much more efficiently so that you can give the needed time to the child!
  • Ability to be patient. Mentors often want the child they work and play with to change dramatically overnight. Give them time and don’t be attached to a particular ‘result’ from your spending time with the child. Let them absorb, experience, reflect. Ask lots of questions; just spend the time and enjoy the process. Get your ego out of the way. There is no right result from mentoring. There is only spending time and sharing.
  • Good listener
  • Tolerant, non-judgmental
  • Reliable and consistent
  • Have good communication skills
  • Have a great sense of humor and are able to be a kid yourself (this really helps)
  • Last, but not least, you MUST like kids:-)!

Finding a Child to Mentor

There are so many kids out in the world who need our help, it’s easy to find them. Here’s a couple of suggestions.

  • Ask a friend, family member or co-worker if they know of a family with a child who could use a mentor.
  • Call your local junior high or high school and talk to the principal or counselor.
  • Contact your local boys and girls clubs, and other children’s organizations
  • Research and contact specific mentoring programs in your areas (Big Brothers/Big Sisters)

What to Do Once You’ve Found a Child to Mentor

How you proceed depends on whether you’re doing the mentoring yourself or doing it through an organization. If through an organization, they will have very specific rules and regulations that you must follow in order to qualify to be a mentor. This can be both a good thing and a restrictive thing. Depends on you and your personal goals in terms of mentoring.

If you are doing this on your own, here are some guidelines and ideas for working with your mentoree:

  • Spend time at first just getting to know the child. Ask lots of questions, let the child get comfortable with you and share as he or she wishes. Let them do the majority of the talking. If you get a child that is quiet, let that be OK.
  • Ask the child what he or she would like to get out of the relationship. You may even want to write it down and sign an agreement so that you are both clear about your commitments to each other and your intentions with the relationship.
  • Let the child know the types of things, skills, etc. that you can share with him or her. You may want to make it OK to explore areas that you aren’t familiar with together. Kids love to learn things with adults; it makes them feel like it’s OK to not know everything. (Yes, it’s OK to not know everything!)
  • Set an intention at the beginning of each meeting. What do you both want to get out of it? Evaluate the result at the end of the meeting.
  • Spend enough time each week to make a difference. 30 minutes here and there probably won’t do it. Two to three hours (or more depending on your situation) is probably a reasonable goal.
  • Don’t look to your mentoree to be a free employee for your business. This is not their role though having them learn what goes on in your business can be a great intention if that’s what THEY want.
  • Make the time you spend with them and the information you share with them confidential and tell them so at the beginning. And then stick to it. The child must be able to trust you and feel comfortable sharing with you. If you want to share a funny story they tell or a joke or experience, ask them before sharing with others. And if they say No, respect their request.
  • Encourage the child to make mistakes. This way they learn that there is so such thing as perfect and that it is a perfectly acceptable way of learning. Talk about successful people (Alexander Graham Bell comes to mind) who made mistakes only to eventually change the world because they were persistent.
  • And lastly, remember that the best way to mentor another is to set an example of what you most want them to learn. This will lead to the biggest and most profound results in your mentoring relationships with others (regardless of age!).
  • For more information about about being a mentor or mentoring organizations or opportunties in your area, just hop on the internet and type ‘mentoring’ into Google. 

You may never know the difference you’ve made in a child’s life but the child will never forget the difference you made.