Working with children is a weird thing. I remember 9 months ago when I originally started my Kids Network training I had many fears floating around in my brain.
Some initial worries included; being incompatible with my mentee, not knowing what activities to do each week, not appearing fun or interesting enough (personality wise.) Funnily enough, as we (myself and the other mentors-in-training) progressed through the training and shared such fears with each other it became clear that I wasn’t alone in my worries about these things.
Luckily, as I’ve developed my relationship with my mentee; I’m discovering that we are actually very much alike; creative and opinionated – although sometimes too shy to share our views confidently. We’re also both Self- confessed foodies; especially when it comes to African cuisine.
Seeing the world from a child’s eyes in 2019 is very interesting indeed. It makes you realise what ‘childhood’ looks like now is very different from when many people my age (early 20s) or older were children. For example, I didn’t have a phone until I was in secondary school and even then, it was a chunky Nokia that couldn’t store more than one song at a time! It makes me feel old, especially when I have the occasional ‘When I was your age’ moment.
Many children nowadays are introduced to technology much earlier which means life – the basic joys and challenges that come with it – are completely different for them. However, underneath this early exposure to information lies the naivety and excitement that is universal to all children; now and in the past. My mentee, for example being nervous about her SATs exams, and later on her results, was a very relatable flashback to me. It’s the similarities like these that help to connect us and create the fun, memorable moments that make mentoring a joy.
So whether you’re considering joining The Kids Network as a mentor or you have just recently starting mentoring I’ve shared some tips below that I’ve learnt along the way that may also help you.
Three top tips:
- Active Listening; for many children it is rare to get such valuable one on one time with someone older where that person does not have their attention divided and the time spent together is dedicated just to them. Part of creating that experience of making them feel special and respected is listening to them. When they share things with you make sure to nod, look at them and ask follow up questions to show they have your attention and interest.
- Try Again; Every session is a refresh.- The fear for many mentors that have a bad session is that one bad session will start a downward trend where all sessions turn out a similar way. Alas, there is nothing to fear, it’s perfectly normal to have an extremely low session (so to speak) and then be back to an average high again the next session.
- Striking a Balance between authoritative decisions and making sessions child-orientated. This applies more so when you have just started mentoring and are building your relationship. Your mentee may not feel comfortable expressing their wishes to you just yet; so when asked ‘what do you want to do?’, you should feel free to make an executive decision and randomly choose an activity you think you will both enjoy. Of course, an important part of making a session- child-centered is allowing your mentee to guide the session. However, sometimes making such decisions feels burdensome to children; so whenever such is the case- feel free to step in with a pre-prepared suggestion that will (hopefully) save the day!