I made a great discovery a little while ago, or at least connected a few dots, that opened my eyes to the power of why every child needs a mentor. I realised that many people are going through traumas emotionally, mentally and spiritually all the time, especially children. This is why I think mentoring is so vital for young people. The reason I believe this is because in my experience of delivering and developing mentoring programmes, where mentoring is made accessible to a wide range of students, you will see them come out of the woodwork in their droves. Not only that, they will start to share things that they once had to hold onto.
Mentoring is vital and important for a number of reasons as it allows a young person to:
• express how they feel and think about school, life, relationships and their challenges;
• have a sounding board that can offer them a variety of perspectives that they may not have considered;
• have a relationship that is truly unique, as the mentor is not their friend, teacher or member of their family;
• become accountable to someone else for the tasks that they are to complete;
• receive personalised support that is unique to their needs or skill gaps.
Throughout school years, young people have to make certain decisions at a time of their lives when they hardly have any experience, hindsight, wisdom, insight or maturity. Still, children/young adults have to choose GSCE subjects and make decisions that will impact them for a number of years. This is why I truly believe that mentoring is key and important for students, as it allows them to have a powerful support mechanism.
During my years of being the Director of Mentoring in an inner city school in Birmingham, I oversaw a mentoring programme that had up to 90 children on it at one time. This experience showed me that when children are given the chance to have a mentor who they are able to develop a good relationship with, they open up and share what’s on their mind. A lot of the time, some of the things the children/young adults would share would be minor; however, on occasions they would share details that would be sensitive, or something even deemed as child protection worthy. Hearing such stories and feelings opened up my eyes to understand that young people bottle things up like the rest of us, holding onto thoughts, fears, worries, curiosities and insecurities.
My thoughts are that, without the right people to talk to young people simply implode. Sometimes, young people just need a different face to talk to, someone who is not related, someone outside of their usual circle. If I can offer a child/young person a safe relationship, I feel like I am making a difference, which is why I believe mentoring in invaluable.
So it is important where possible that you can foster an environment for young people to have opportunities to develop mentoring relationships, that will enable them to speak to the right people who can encourage, inspire, motivate, challenge and make them feel that it is all right to be who they are. This is when young people are then able to experience the laxative of mentoring as they express and release their feelings to experience mental, emotional, educational and/or spiritual relief.
Here are a few tips on how to listen to children:
1. Focus on what the child is saying and be aware of what they are not saying.
2. Do not judge the child based on past experiences.
3. Do not fill the silences, as you can change the direction of the conversation.
4. Wait for the right time to speak and avoid the temptation of rushing the child to speak.
5. Do not assume – ask for clarity when it is needed.
Herman Stewart is a consultant, author, trainer and speaker in high demand and is a revered role model among young people. Herman believes that there is something missing in the way we educate and support our children at present and he believes it’s mentoring! His recently published book Every Child Needs A Mentor is available on Amazon.