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Mentoring Tips | Building Relationships | FAQs | Stories

Mentoring Tips

Here are some mentoring tips from the Big Brothers Big Sisters staff:

  • Make the planning of activities an activity. Pop some popcorn, take some seasonal snapshots, and create a list or calendar of activities. Decorate it. Not only will you have ideas of what activities to do together for the next few months, but you will learn a lot about each other.
  • Ask lots of questions about school. What are your Little's favorite subjects? What challenges does your Little face? Is your Little involved in extra-curricular activities such as music or sports? Remember, your Little is in school the majority of the day—just as you spend most of your day at work. Does your Little have friends? Does your Little like his or her teachers? Be proactive. If you already know the characters from your Little's stories, he or she will be more likely to share a story with you. Personalize the discussion by adding how you did in school and what it was like for you.
  • Communicate regularly with the guardian. Good communication between the mentor and guardian increases the likelihood of success with the match. Engage the guardian in conversation about your Little. The adults should communicate together before and after the activity to have the greatest impact on the Little.
  • Adjust your "progress measuring stick" to fit the child's needs. Then adjust your goals and expectations to size.
  • Don't stop at simple instructions when a learning opportunity presents itself. Create an environment around the task that will help your Little succeed. Asking your Little to call you is one example. Your Little might be intimidated by having to leave a message or talking to somebody live, so set up a call night and time, and then make sure you're there. Tell your Little it's okay to ask the guardian to call and have them pass the phone. The goal is to help your Little develop.
  • Set clear, concise, and achievable goals together. Review your goals together. Measure your progress or challenges together.
  • Try something new.
  • Incorporate education into your activities. Build a model rocket . . . and on the way discover the mysteries of gravity, inertia, and "what goes up, must come down." Bigs can take little steps instead of diving in right away.
  • Be responsible to your obligations.

Building Relationships

Big Brothers Big Sisters can provide you with a copy of Building Relationships: A guide for new mentors. The booklet deals with mentor expectations and approaches for a successful match and provides advice to guide Bigs in their role of supporting Littles and helping them grow. Contact your match coordinator for a copy. You can also print off a PDF version of this guide (43 pages).



How can I get my Little involved in organized extracurricular activities? Determine if your Little's parent is supportive. Research with your little activities in the area that the little might have an interest in. Assist the family in getting the enrollment process started.

Can I tell my Little that I don't agree with something the parent says or does? Yes. Be clear in letting the child know that you have a different opinion and that it is common for adults to have differing views.

As a mentor what things should I be teaching my Little? You should focus on teaching life skills that are appropriate for the Little's age. It is important to be teaching things that help the child develop in the areas of need and within the 21 defined developmental areas of a mentoring relationship [sounds clinical--better way to say??].

How involved should I get in the personal problems of the Little's family? Use the Building Relationships guide to help you maintain the appropriate boundaries. It is appropriate to be supportive and to act as a resource for suggestions. You need to maintain an emphasis on your relationship with the Little.

How involved should I get in my Little's schoolwork? A mentor should develop a plan to get involved in the child's academic life. The involvement should include conversations about the school experience and support in the areas in which the little struggles. The Little and parent must be involved in developing your level of involvement.



The following story was contributed by Big Sister Tracey Kelley. If you would like to contribute a story or advice about your own mentoring experience, contact us.

Little Efforts Build Big Communication Payoff

I wanted to become a Big Sister because many people had helped me at pivotal points in my life: the coach who spent a little time after the basketball game to give me extra pointers to improve my game; the mother of a friend who let me stay an extra night when there was trouble at home; the teacher who listened rather than dictated lessons. Sometimes just having someone older to talk to - someone who would listen without judgment, guide without payment, is all we need when growing up.

With my Little, talking and listening is a big part of how we spend our time together. When we can't get see each other, I just give her a call. She tells me about a weird thing at school or new nail polish or a movie she's watched. I tell her about a weird thing at work or my new haircut or a new CD I bought. Within 10 minutes we've caught up. It's easy; it's quick; but more importantly, it's a way for us to stay connected, to continue to integrate ourselves into each other's lives. Amazing what can be accomplished in 10 minutes.

Because of these "small-talk" conversations the trust builds, and there are times when we're driving from Point A to Point B that she talks about more serious things. Funny—she's very open and honest when we're in the car—as if it's "safer" when I'm not looking directly at her. She tells me the concerns of a teenager - peer pressure, a friend doing drugs, the cruelty in the world, why her boyfriend isn't calling, death, fears about getting her first job, sex, the health of her grandmother/guardian, what her body is doing. I am constantly surprised and pleased by her insight, thoughtfulness, and eagerness to grow. These conversations don't require special training on my part—it's all about remembering what it was like "back then," listening carefully, and sharing of myself.

When people find out that I'm a Big Sister, they always say, "Oh, that's really neat. You're so good to do that." Am I? I don't think I ever thought of it in those terms. What I do think about is that I have a young friend who I can share things with. I have someone who is happy when I call, even if it's for a minute. I have someone I can go "play" with. I look at elements of the world with a fresh perspective because that's the perspective of my Little. The time spent with my Little may not be every day, or even every week, but that doesn't lessen its impact. It's a good friendship I'm lucky to have.


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