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Mentoring Idea of the Month #2: Talk about emotions!

In her 2020 book on youth mentoring, Older and Wiser, researcher Jean Rhodes writes: “…left untreated, many of the early social, emotional, behavioral, and academic struggles that emerge in childhood and adolescence grow more complicated and difficult to resolve. One solution is for youth to first work with paraprofessionals…” You are that paraprofessional! Grand Area Mentoring establishes mentoring relationships in elementary school so mentors can intervene early.

Though Rhodes lists several domains where mentees struggle, Grand Area Mentoring urges mentor to focus, in particular, on emotional regulation. This skill helps in all areas, and most mentees have some history that might make emotional regulation challenging. A few tips:

Role model. When you have an emotion during your mentoring session or tell a story about one, describe the process you use to manage your emotion. This is an instance when self-disclosure can be appropriate and useful. Role modeling requires great poise on your part, so think ahead about how you want to communicate during such an exchange.

Support. Listen for the deep emotions your mentee might express (or act out) in moments of frustration, sadness, anger, fear, loneliness, shame, or other powerful feelings. Hear the need behind that emotion. To confirm and acknowledge, ask: do you feel _____ because _____? For example: “Justin, do you feel angry because you wanted everyone to take turns so this was fair and you didn’t have to wait longer than everyone else?” Or: “Are you sad because your cat died and you miss her?” Identifying emotions and their origins helps students understand their experiences.

Practice. Consider incorporating mindfulness practices into your mentoring session. Start during moments of calm so that the habit can be well established before the skills are called upon in moments of stress. Help your mentee take timeouts with a brisk walk, noticing that the emotion changes over time. Explain that emotions are normal and can be helpful, but we are responsible for managing how we react to them.



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