Building family relationships in mentoring programs

Learn how to build strong relationships with families in your mentoring program.

Woman and daughter sit together smiling

Family engagement is an important part of mentoring or other youth development programs. Integral to family engagement is the relationship between families and the program. Intentional efforts should be made to build and maintain positive relationships with families throughout the program.

Building the relationship

It’s important to start by building a solid relationship with families from day one. 

  • Start with a strong orientation process for families. 
  • Invite families to be involved in program activities. 
  • Reach out to families individually to get to know them, their preferences and what they want out of the program. 
  • Set clear expectations about the program. 

Monitoring the relationship

The Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring tell us that we need to have regular contact with youth, mentors and parents. It’s important to keep lines of communication open with families throughout the program. 

  • Answer questions and respond to any worry or discomfort the family may have. 
  • Talk about relationship issues that might be barriers.
  • Investigate match dynamics (especially in group mentoring).
  • Gather suggestions for program improvements or future directions.

Closing the relationship

As you get close to the end of the mentoring relationship or navigate a premature match closure, families play an important role.

  • Talk to parents a month or two before closure to let them know the time is coming. Tell them what to expect.
  • Ask for the parents to assist with any wrap up or closure events you have planned.
  • If possible, parents should attend the closure meeting. Youth often struggle with closure and parents can help navigate the process.
  • Remind parents that the mentor/mentee relationship will no longer be monitored by program staff and that it is now the responsibility of the parents to monitor the relationship if it continues.

Engaging the family through the mentoring relationship is essential to the success of the organization and the experience for both the mentor, mentee and family. Parents should understand that the mentor is in place to help build a relationship with the child, but not replace the role that the parent holds. By keeping open communication between the mentor and the family, as well as engaging regularly in events and activities, the child should gain a sense of support and encouragement from those caring adults.

MSU Extension’s Heads In, Hearts In family engagement resources

Michigan State University Extension has created a series of family engagement activities called “Heads In, Hearts In.” These resources contain simple, easy-to-follow activities where parents can engage with their children around a specific educational topic. Heads In, Hearts In activities will encourage families to use their minds (putting their “heads in”) to expand their knowledge and work, grow and learn together (putting their “hearts in”). 

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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