Making a difference in the life of a child can be truly rewarding; their early experiences will shape much of their lives, and the adults in their orbit, and what they learn from them, play an integral role, for better or worse. Whether you are playing the part of mentor for a child in your life, or as a member of an organization, you are probably interested in doing the best job you can. Here are just a few tips to guide you.
Consistency is Key
To be an effective mentor, you need to be consistent in your efforts. For the effort to be effective, organizations usually would like a commitment of at least one year. It is easy to get excited about volunteer opportunities and jump into them without giving much thought to the long-term. When it comes to a mentoring opportunity, this lack of forethought is detrimental to the children in the program. Really consider if this is right for you, and if you can make this type of commitment.
Keep an Open Mind
Chances are, the child you are mentoring will have a very different background than you, and thinks and acts in a way that you may not fully understand. They are a product of their environment just as you are a product of yours. Do your best to keep an open mind, and try to understand what has shaped the child. Suspend judgment and be open. This will be a learning experience for you, and the more comfortable the child feels around you, the more he will share; the more you know about him, the more effectively you can make a positive impact.
While the idea of mentoring has its serious undertones—changing lives, teaching,etc… don’t forget you are dealing with a kid, and kids want to have fun. Being with you is not only an opportunity to develop new skills, and become better adjusted and successful, it is a way to get away from the problems of their life a bit and just be. So, don’t forget to do fun things.
And lots of those fun things can also be beneficial in other ways. Mr. Aaron DelSignore, a well-known mentor and advocate for at-risk youth from Henderson, Nevada, stresses the importance of physical activity as a pillar of a positive and happy lifestyle. As a former boxing trainer, he has seen firsthand the positive effects of physical fitness.
Be Firm, But Friendly
As a mentor, you are tasked with helping kids identify their goals, and provide guidance on how to best meet them; you are there to offer your support, advice and a perspective that may not be available to them in their current environment. But, this relationship does not have to be as ‘firm’ as one that might exist with their parents or teachers. Make sure you go about your mentoring in a compassionate and kind way—you want the child to like and trust you. Push them a bit to help them succeed, but don’t do so in a way you become a source of stress for them.