Advice and Resources for Helping Your Mentee Develop Communication Skills

Communicating effectively with your mentee is perhaps the most important aspect of mentoring, and the most challenging. Young people typically have a rather simple style of communication, and they’re often reluctant to talk about anything meaningful, particularly with adults. A mentor often faces real challenges in getting through to the young person in the mentor relationship.

Ironically, the mentee is usually eager to communicate with someone, but life experience can make it difficult for a child to trust adults. Kids have often had very few experiences of adults willing to take them seriously and trying to understand their thoughts and feelings. This is especially true if they come from an abusive environment, where they might have been punished for speaking up. They may feel alone, as if no one cares for them. They may feel estranged from the adult world, with only other kids for company. This feeling of isolation contributes to behavior problems like delinquency, gang affiliation, and truancy.  Meaningful communication can improve kids’ emotional well-being and help them feel less isolated, and therefore more capable of solving the problems they face at home and at school.

Mentors are in a unique position to help young people learn to communicate, because a mentor stands outside the child’s world and isn’t emotionally tied to his circumstances and environment. A mentor can approach the problem of establishing communication simply by being available and willing to listen without judging. Establishing real contact might take awhile, especially if the child has suffered bad experiences with adults. But simply being available and listening to whatever the mentee is willing to say will eventually establish a rapport based on trust.

It is sometimes possible to speed up this process by using communication techniques that have been developed by counselors and therapists. An example is reflective listening. The mentor, in the listening role, can sometimes repeat back what the young person has said, but in a different form, to check for real understanding. For example, “I think I heard you say that your brother is your parent’s favorite. Did I get that right?” Using reflective listening can improve your understanding of the child’s world, and, perhaps more importantly, it shows your mentee that you genuinely care about understanding what’s going on for him.

There are other techniques for helping young people and mentors communicate more effectively. You can find some examples in Resources, below. But it’s important to remember that all that’s really necessary is to listen without judging. As with so much of the mentor-mentee experience, just being there is the most important thing you can do.

Resources:

How to Practice Nonviolent Communication
This is a great article that describes in detail some very effective communication techniques that have been proved over the years in clinical practice, workshops, and family therapy.


Communication Tips for Parents” is a short, simple general discussion of communication with young people, from the American Psychological Association.

How Kids Learn to Communicate in a Social Media World
A short, thought-provoking discussion of this new frontier in communication, and how it affects kids.

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Tuesday
May072013

Lying

Adapted from Partners Mentoring Youth, this article discusses why children sometimes lie and how to handle it. It describes how to recognize when children are lying and offers tips on ways mentors can help with this behavior.

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Monday
Apr222013

What Do You Think?: Consistency and Communication

This article takes an in depth look at the important of communication in the mentoring relationship. It includes a discussion scenario and questions to use with your mentee.

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