Supporting Your Child's Relationship with a Mentor

I don’t know what value you can place on [a mentor], but the right words spoken at the right time from a person that’s been through it before can make all the difference.
—Cal Ripkin, Jr.

Any caring, involved adult can be a young person’s mentor. Some mentorships are pairings made by organizations. Other matches are made informally by people who coach, teach, or support your child because of their relationship with your family. We know that the greater the number of caring adults in a child’s life, the higher the likelihood that the child will thrive. A good mentor-mentee relationship takes time to develop. As the parent or caregiver, you play an important role in helping this special friendship grow, whether or not you have much direct contact with your child’s mentor.

Try these tips to nurture your child’s mentoring relationships:

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Start by identifying friends and family members whom you want to play active, ongoing roles in your child’s life. Then ask them to play this role!
    • Be positive. Very young children won’t yet understand what it means to have a mentor, but they will know that you are happy they have an important adult friend in their lives.
    • Encourage your child to express appreciation for his caring adult friends and relatives. Help him make and send thank you pictures, cards, or unique treats after he’s been treated to a special activity.
    • You will always be the most important adult in your young child’s life. But your child’s caring adult friends can help you reinforce what you are doing as a parent, helping you to become even more effective.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Think about the caring adults who are “attached” to your child. If there aren’t many outside your family, begin to seek out adults whom you admire. Perhaps an aunt or uncle? A nurturing coach? A kind neighbor? Someone who can teach your child a useful skill?
    • Describe for your child the positive skills and behaviors you notice as a result of the time she spends with her mentor. (“I really like the way you . . .”)
    • If you’re present when your child’s mentor arrives (for example, during pick-up and drop-off times), make that person feel welcome. Show your interest in them by asking friendly questions, but try not to make demands.
    • Parents can sometimes feel a bit jealous of the time their children spend with a mentor. Remember: The mentor is not your replacement. Allowing your child to have a relationship with a mentor lets you invest in the healthy growth of your child.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • This is the time when both formal and informal mentoring relationships can have hugely positive effects on children. Intentionally seek out one or two additional adults to bring into your child’s life, if you haven’t done so already.
    • Help your child remember future visits with a mentor by using a calendar, planner, or other system for keeping track of the schedule.
    • Communicate with the mentoring program’s staff or with your child’s mentor when there are schedule changes or stresses in her life that might affect her behavior with her mentor.
    • Keep in mind that every mentoring relationship ends at some point. You can be ready to listen and provide extra support when that happens. If the relationship is strong, the mentor may always be a part of your child’s life, but if not, that’s okay.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • It’s not too late to identify a caring adult who can help take some of the pressure off you during the teenage years. Do you know someone you can bring into a mentoring relationship with your teen who shares your teen’s “spark” or passion? A colleague? Music instructor? Your child’s employer?
    • Let the mentor know how much you appreciate his or her presence in your child’s life. With your teen, think of an appropriate way to thank the mentor.
    • Show your interest in the mentor, but keep a low profile. After all, this is your child’s relationship.
  • Remember that the mentor is not going to replace you. Your teen is at an age where it is developmentally appropriate to form stronger relationships with people outside the family. You, however, will always be the parent and nothing will ever change that.

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