You can do it. Most kids love to talk about themselves and are thrilled when adults give them their full attention. You might be surprised to hear what they want to be when they grow up.
You can provide mentoring through a volunteer program such as those sponsored by the National Mentoring Partnership, Tutor/Mentor Connection, The Boys & Girls Club, Read Aloud America, America’s Promise, the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Foundation and many other organizations. They welcome individual, community and corporate participation.
You can also mentor a child more informally any time, anywhere throughout the year: during a meal, while doing chores around the house, during TV commercials or on the way home from soccer practice. Simple questions such as “Who do you think designs soccer stadiums?” can lead to conversations about diverse career choices and areas of study.
One-on-one conversations can uncover important clues about what will motivate a child in life and in school. Listen carefully and tie that clue to a school subject, an exploratory field trip or an informational interview with someone who works in that field.
You can elicit important information through shared creative activities too: reading aloud, singing, dancing, painting, exercising, visiting museums, going to movies.
The key is to hone in on what makes a child glow with enjoyment, curiosity or a sense of achievement and to help them connect that to their schoolwork and life skills development.
You don’t need to preach or judge. Only encourage, nurture and appreciate. Think back to what it meant to you to have an adult care about your thoughts, dreams and opinions. That’s where strong self-esteem starts and self doubt ends.
If you don’t know the answers to a child’s questions, find them together. Knowing how and where to find answers is a fabulous life skill in and of itself.
Visit libraries and museums, go on field trips, source varied reference materials, interview experts – show kids how rewarding it is to explore the world around them. Along the way, they will become more comfortable with finding their place in it.
You have a lot of wisdom to share about your work, education, career path and professional experience. Share how you have learned –or are still learning- to deal with challenges and opportunities along the way. Use all of it as your mentoring curriculum. It’s good stuff!
Sharing stories or regrets about the good, the bad and, yes, the stupid decisions you have made will help a child feel more at ease and less anxious about his or her own decisions. Kids appreciate honesty. (And they can spot a poser a mile away.)
Instill a respect for all professionals and what they contribute to our working world.
Let kids know that ‘work’ is not a negative four-letter word, but a privilege and a compliment. After all, being hired by someone means they think you will be important to their success!