During this time of social distancing, making a virtual connection is more important than ever. CricketTogether eMentors help students reach their full potential and provide a listening ear and encouragement to those who most need it. Here are some tips to create the most productive, successful eMentoring relationships! Feel free to follow CricketTogether on Facebook for more Mentoring Monday tidbits.
Be a friend
Almost all the mentors in a successful relationship see their role as a friend who supports the youth and helps them to grow and develop, as well as offering gentle guidance as a role model.
Look for ways to encourage your mentees
One of the most important things you can do as a mentor is to help your mentee develop self-esteem and self-confidence. In your correspondence with your mentee, try to include words of affirmation. Here’s a sampling of the types of words and phrases you can use when appropriate:
- You make me smile.
- You’re so interesting
- I love how your mind works
- That was such a kind thing to do
- You’re the type of friend I wanted when I was your age
- You have such great ideas
- I love how you did not give up
Having fun is not trivial. For youth, having fun and sharing it with an attentive adult carry great weight and meaning. One way to do this while eMentoring is to bring some fun conversations into your letters. Our eMentors find that ‘this or that’ questions spark fun exchanges and help you get to know your mentee better!
Let your mentee control the conversation
Give your mentee control over what the two of you talk about—and how you talk about it! One way to do this in eMentoring is to be attentive to the topics your mentee raises in their letters. One of our eMentors in Maryland keeps a sticky note of “What’s important to my mentee?” and purposefully circles back to those topics, events or things that the mentee has shared in past correspondence!
Build a relationship
As the adult, you are responsible for building the relationship. The beginning of any relationship is often awkward, and mentoring relationships are no exception, so be patient with your mentee and yourself! The first way to build your relationship is to be yourself. Your mentee wants to know about YOU, your interests, your family, your favorite things, any interesting things you’re doing and learning about. There’s no need to impress your pen pal with long stories or big words – just be yourself and write as you’re speaking with a friend.
Then, ask open-ended questions and demonstrate empathy. Just like in regular conversation, it’s important to show interest in learning about your mentee. Asking questions makes it likelier that your mentee will respond faster.
Strong mentoring relationships do lead to positive changes; however, these changes tend to occur indirectly, and they often happen slowly over time. Understand that the feedback and reassurance characteristics of adult-to-adult relationships are often beyond the capacity of youth. At times, some mentors feel unappreciated because they get little or no positive feedback from their mentee. The good news is that you can relax, focus on the whole person, and be there for your mentee without the pressure of focusing on performance or change. And, allow your mentee to share information when they are ready and remind them that they can share without judgment.
Listen. Then ask questions
Be an active listener, validate their emotions, state that you want to help, and then ask them questions to strengthen their own problem-solving skills and guide them toward solutions. Rather than try to solve problems for your mentee, see your role as a sounding board. You want to be the safest place for them to explore possible solutions. Ask questions that encourage them to brainstorm possible solutions. Here are some comments and questions that might help:
- “It sounds like this has been very difficult for you.”
- “I would like to help you – perhaps together we can try to think of ways to make it better.”
- “What could make you feel better about this problem?”, “What are some ways you’re thinking about solving the problem?”, or “How can we break this big problem into little pieces?”
Research tells us that it’s not determination or inner strength that leads kids through adversity. What’s most critical is the reliable presence of at least one supportive relationship. Within the safety of a relationship with a supportive adult, children are more likely to develop coping skills. As a mentor, and a caring adult, here are three things you can do to cultivate resilience and help your mentee develop coping skills:
- Let them know that being brave and strong means knowing when to ask for help.
- Suggest your mentee get moving! Exercise strengthens the brain to make it more resilient to stress. Ask when they last kicked a ball, danced, played tag, went for a run, walked through their neighborhood, etc.
- What you think matters! Your mentee will look to you to reflect how they are handling adversity. Be encouraging and let them know that you believe in them!
While it’s supremely important to validate how your mentee feels in any situation (and feel honored that they trust you as a safe place to share their feelings), it’s important for their resiliency development to understand how to find the positive. As a mentor, validate first, but then help your mentee see what’s still possible. “It is disappointing when ___, but don’t forget that ___.”
Share a boring fact about yourself
Want to have a little fun, and perhaps make it easier for your mentee and you to open up? Share a boring fact about yourself and ask your mentee to do the same. Maybe you always brush your teeth from top to bottom or you don’t like mustard or you know a lot about identifying mushrooms!
Way to go! You did great! Wow, you’re a rock star! As adults, we love to feel a sense of accomplishment and the same goes for your mentee. Celebrate their successes (big or small) and encourage them to reach for the stars. By being your mentee’s personal encourager, you open a world of confidence and self-discovery.
Step into your mentee’s shoes
Sharing your ideas with your mentee is valuable, but it’s important to pause and try to understand the world from their perspective. Put yourself in your mentee’s shoes and consider how their experiences, values, and beliefs may differ from your own. As a mentor, it’s crucial to be aware of privileges that your mentee may not share with you and to be open to and aware of other perspectives!