Mentoring your child
to support and encourage desired behaviors
When you were growing up, did you have a special person your life
who did things with you, gave you advice, or was a good listener? This
person may have been a relative or friend of the family who was older
than you. If so, then you had a mentor.
Since the early 1980s, formal mentoring
programs that pair children with caring
mentors have been highly successful.
Mentoring, whether an informal relationship
or a formal program, has a focused goal:
guiding children through adolescence so
they can become happy, healthy adults.
You may know that all children need
mentors, but did you know that parents
make great mentors?
Did you know...?
Kids who have
mentors are less
likely to take part in risky behaviors.
Children who have
mentors are 46 percent
less likely to use illegal drugs, 27 percent less
likely to use alcohol, and 52 percent less likely to
skip school than kids who don’t have mentors. Kids with mentors also report that they are more
confident of their school performance, more likely
to get along with others, and less likely to hit
–Big Brothers Big Sisters
Impact Study, 1995
What does it mean to be a mentor?
A mentor is someone who provides support, guidance, friendship, and respect to a child.
Sounds great. But what does that mean?
Being a mentor is like being a coach of a sports team. A caring
coach sees the strengths and weaknesses of each player and tries to
build those strengths and lessen those weaknesses. In practice, coaches
stand back and watch the action, giving advice on what the players
should do next, but knowing that the players make their own game-time
decisions. Coaches honestly point out things that can be done better
and praise things that are done well. Coaches listen to their players
and earn players’ trust. They give their players a place to turn when
things get tough.
Mentors do the same things: develop a child’s strengths; share a
child’s interests; offer advice and support; give praise; listen; be a
friend. Mentors help kids to reach their full potential, which includes
mistakes and tears, as well as successes and smiles. Mentors know that
small failures often precede major successes; knowing this fact, they
encourage kids to keep trying because those successes are right around
Did you know...?
Your approval or
disapproval teaches your child about
desirable behavior.6, 12
Parents need to be
careful about how they express approval or
who are harsh in their
disapproval may hurt
their children’s self-esteem; parents who never express disapproval may raise
children who can’t deal
with any criticism. Try to find a balance between
expressions of approval and disapproval. Be
consistent in your rewards and punishments.
What can I do to be a mentor?
There is no magic wand that turns
people into caring mentors. Just spending
time with your child helps you become
a mentor. You can do ordinary things with
your child, like going grocery shopping
together; you can do special things with
your child, like going to a museum or
a concert together. The important part is
that you do things together, which includes
communicating with one another.
You may want to keep these things in mind
as you think about being a mentor:
- Be honest about your own strengths
If you know the answer to a question,
say so; if you don’t, say so. To build
a trusting, but real, relationship with
your child, you only have to be
human. All humans make mistakes;
you have, and your child will, too.
Your child can benefit from hearing
about your mistakes, including
what you thought before you made
them, how your thoughts changed
after you made them, and how
you changed your thoughts or behaviors
to avoid them in the future. A child
who thinks his or her parent is perfect builds expectations that parents can’t
possibly live up to.
- Respect your child’s thoughts
and opinions without judging them.
Even if you don’t agree with your
child, make it clear that you want
to know what his or her thoughts are, without the threat of punishment.
If your child is afraid of being punished, he or she may stop sharing things entirely. Let different points-of-view
co-exist for a while; they will allow your child to think more about an
issue. Remember that there is an important difference between, “I disagree with you,” and “You’re wrong.”
- Support your child’s interests and strengths, but don’t force things.
Kids spend their childhood trying to
figure out who they are, how the world works, and how they fit into that world.
Make sure your child has enough room
to explore. If your child has no interest
in an activity or topic, don’t push.
Your child will soon begin to dread the “forced activity” and will find ways to
get out of doing it.
- Introduce your child to things that you
like to do.
This is a useful way for your child to
learn more about you. It’s sometimes hard
for kids to picture their parents doing
things that other people do, like playing
an instrument, volunteering at a
nursing home, watching movies, playing
a sport, or knowing about art. If your
child sees you doing these things, you become more of a “regular person,” rather than “just a parent.”
Did you know...?
The feedback and advice that parents give can guide
children to make more positive
By supporting desired
behaviors, parents help their children build
self-confidence. These traits give children the inner strength they need
to make better decisions when faced with a
challenge. It’s important for parents to keep the lines of communication open, so that vital
advice and feedback
gets to their children.
To read more about how some parents fit
mentoring into their daily parenting
activities, turn to the section of the booklet
that relates to your child’s age. Or, read on
to learn about modeling.
Mentoring gives kids the support they need to become the people they
are meant to be. But what about you? Are you the person you want to be? Take some time to think about becoming a better model for your child.