Mentoring – Part 1: Building a strong mentoring relationship

Successful mentoring relationships are linked to positive youth outcomes. Explore tips to build a strong relationship.

It can be both intimidating and exciting – the day a mentor gets to meet her new mentee involves a variety of emotions from all parties. A close and caring relationship between the mentor and youth is a key component of successful mentoring. How do you create these close relationships? Michigan State University Extension recently released the Ready to Go: Mentor Training Tool Kit which provides 56 activities that mentoring programs can use in training to assist mentoring programs in building mentor skills. In Module One: Building Mentoring Relationships, we share some tips for developing these new relationships.

  1. Be the mentor. Don’t try to be a therapist or teacher or social worker.
  2. Take it slow. It is healthy to ease into a relationship. Don’t start off with overly personal questions or share too much about yourself too soon.
  3. Approach the relationship as a team. Ask your mentee to help make decisions about your time together. Mentors may take the lead until the mentee is comfortable doing so, but the mentee should always have the opportunity to provide input.
  4. Be realistic. Your mentee isn’t going to change overnight – and you don’t want him to! Mentoring is about providing youth with a positive role model and caring relationship. Changes will happen, but they cannot be forced.
  5. Be consistent. This means show up when you say you will be there and do what you say you are going to do. You also need to see each other often enough to build a solid relationship. It is difficult to build trust with someone you rarely interact with or with someone who doesn’t follow through on promises.
  6. Think about the mentors in your life. What qualities did they have? What did they do to support you? Thinking about your personal mentors can help you make a plan for becoming the mentor you want to be. For instance, mentors rarely tell a young person what they should do. Good mentors help the mentee consider options and make an informed decision –  even if that decision is different from the decision the mentor would make.

Mentoring is a process and not a destination. Enjoy the process and seek support from program staff when needed. You are sure to make a difference in the life of a young person and you will probably experience more benefits than you can imagine. For more mentoring tips, see the “mentoring” section of the MSU Extension website and stay tuned for the rest of this series:

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