Ending Strong by Remaining Curious
Three weeks in April and four in May; there are only seven more visiting opportunities before the school year concludes, and your communication with your mentee takes a summer break. With the end drawing near, your mentee could be experiencing a variety of positive and negative emotions, such as pressure to improve grades, excitement about end-of-year activities, anxiety about summer unknowns, and so on. Sometimes physical and emotional weariness – from the mentee or the mentor — can lead to those “dial-tone days” when visits feel flat and unrewarding. How can you keep your relationship progressing and satisfying for you both?
Dr. Julia Pryce tells us the key is mentor attunement, defined as the adult capacity to remain curious about a child. The idea of curiosity naturally makes us think of asking questions. While well-placed open-ended questions can play an important part, remaining curious refers more to creating safety and interest around what the mentee has to say. Dr. Pryce advises that we can improve our attunement through keeping these five skills in mind1:
- Active listening – expressing interest or appreciation for the mentee’s sharing, repeating back what you heard, allowing the mentee to name the feeling (although sometimes you may need to help with the words), remaining compassionate and nonjudgmental, allowing the mentee time to think.
- Maintaining eye contact – giving undivided attention, turning toward your mentee and keeping open posture, sitting at your mentee’s level.
- Identifying and responding to mentee nonverbal as well as verbal cues – “Hmm, you seem to be frowning. I wonder why?” or, “My, that’s a heavy sigh,’ or “I noticed you’re looking out the window a lot,” or “Wow, you have a big smile today!”
- Maintaining flexibility – discussing and trying to honor requests to switch days or end an activity in favor of another one.
- Soliciting youth ideas regarding activities – Consider mapping out with your mentee how s/he would like to spend the remaining seven visits. You could ask just like that, or offer two or three choices, or put the ideas on strips of paper for the mentee to draw, or take turns deciding for the next time. Need some fresh ideas?
- Invite your mentee to make a time line of the year: high points, low points, favorite day, best accomplishment, biggest change, etc.
Pick from the list: 20 Open Ended Questions to Ask Your Adolescent Mentee
- Stay true to your commitment by visiting every week.
- Take time to celebrate. Plan a time to talk with your mentee about the highlights of your year together.
- Realistic promises are best. Example: “I really, really hope we get to continue in September.”
- Observe program rules and boundaries; avoid bending them just to keep your mentee engaged.
- Nice gifts to end the year should emphasize your connection. A book or card with a memorable note from you is a great choice.
- Get input from your Mentor Director or other program staff member who, no doubt, is always glad to hear from you.
~Seedling Mentor Program Staff