The month of May brings an air of celebration in our schools. With most testing dates completed and deadlines met, students have more opportunities for field trips and special events like Track-and-Field Day. For mentors, May brings a unique set of challenges and opportunities.We at Seedling Foundation want to help you anticipate these issues and provide you with some best practice ideas for making the most of these final few visits for the year. This month’s Mentor Minute is devoted to responding to special end-of-year thoughts and questions that may cross a mentor’s mind.
My mentee is thrilled about summer, right?
Who wouldn’t be happy about having no homework, sleeping a little later, and playing outside in the sunshine? But summer may include some other differences for your mentee. You might be surprised by some issues that could result in subtle signs of anxiety in your next few visits.
For many children, school represents a place of predictability and physical and emotional safety, feelings that may be diminished or absent in the three months of summer. If there is vague talk at home about relocating to a new school or a new city, your mentee may be worried about making new friends and all that is unknown about a new place to live. Or, little fears about uncertain supervision, or a potential bully at the swimming pool, or the conflict that can arise from crowded or chaotic living arrangements, or even food insecurity may be weighing on his or her mind. Last, in a home with limited resources, a child may be dreading not having enough to do. How can a mentor help?
A good open-ended question such as “What do you think your summer will be like?” can open the door. Use your best active listening skills to watch for small changes in tone, facial expression or body language, and invite your mentee to talk about feelings.
Other questions might be
- How will you spend your time away from school this summer?
- Who will you be with? (How old is your cousin?)
- Is there any part of the summer that you are really looking forward to?
- Is there any part of the summer that you’re worried about?
- Who do you talk to in the summer when something is bothering you?
Talk about qualities in friends who are “good” and friends who are “not so good.” This conversation may also be an opportunity for personal sharing. For example, you can let your mentee know the tricks and self-talk you use when faced with inadequate personal space or with inevitable boredom.
And last, if your mentee describes glorious summer plans that make you doubtful, avoid asking for details that can require a child to continue making up facts. Instead, ask open-ended questions that allow the child to explore the would-be adventure, such as “I wonder…what do you suppose that would be like – to visit Disney World.”
-Sari Waxler, Executive Director