Joel Toombs has a rich tool box of mentoring ideas to help your children in the New Year
My nine year old has had trouble sleeping for a long while now. For some time I would just dismiss it and explain she just had to lie there until she fell asleep – after all, after bed time is your time right?! You’re tired after a long day and it’s the only time you get to yourself! Soon I realised this wasn’t fair on her as much as me and so I tackled it head on. The key word about mentoring is INTENTIONAL. Mentoring happens when you decide to facilitate and support your child in a purposeful way. So we began a long process together to crack it… It involved calculations; how much sleep she needed and how much she actually gets, what time she falls asleep and what time would be optimum in order to get enough… and agreed a plan to work back from the latter to the former in 15 minute intervals each week. We built in bedtime activities that don’t involve screens (eg playing chess together), a routine every night including a snack, quiet time, and ‘talk time’ where she gets to offload all questions and thoughts long before bedtime so they don’t keep her up. We discussed monsters and strategies for combatting fear, loneliness, fidgety-ness… We bought a great book about ‘dreading your bed’ that we read together. The results have been remarkable. Not only has her sleep habits and bedtimes improved considerably but I’ve loved all this quality time with her and it’s been fantastic to interact with her in a new way and on a deeper level.
The take-away from all this is mainly around using mentoring principles to take your organic relationship with your child to a new level. How can mentoring improve your relationship? And how can it bring new opportunities and solutions and growth to you both? Maybe it can introduce new traditions and create memories that stick out for both of you in the years to come.
Here’s some examples of mentoring ideas that you may have dismissed as too formal or too hard… but being intentional doesn’t have to mean awkward. Use these to spur on your own creativity…
1. Talk time
An agreed regular slot where they get to offload their thoughts and questions, or discuss a certain topic; whatever they would find useful. Don’t use it as an opportunity to preach at them or chide them; it’s for them to feel listened to. They’ll feel very grown-up and appreciated and you’ll get to know them better. Works best if it’s for a certain aim (as above) but especially if paired with a regular activity such as getting doughnuts or washing the car together becomes a ritual and creates lovely memories.
2. Yearly Audits
Might be fun to create this as an New Year or advent tradition or even as part of an annual summer wild camping trip. To evaluate the year gone by and look ahead to the year coming. It also creates a sense of progression and visualises growth. Create a page of questions such as favourite song/day trip/memory from this year – and add some in deeper questions such as what scared you this year? What do you want to achieve by next year? And so on. Both of you fill it in then look over last years’ answers and discuss the coming years’ challenges and opportunities.
3. Make routine activities valuable
Transform everyday chores and jobs into valuable parent/child moments by (slowing down/being a bit less preoccupied with quality or speed?!) by doing them together and seeing it as an excuse to listen to your child and ask them open questions. Perhaps take them with you on work errands or shopping trips. Works best one-to-one.
4. Goal Setting
It may feel uncomfortable sitting down for a more formal mentoring meeting when it’s your own child – but suggest it to them if they have a goal or dream or problem. It will show you are listening and give you a new context within which to connect with them and facilitate their thinking and problem solving. Don’t provide all the answers! Question them so that they come up with solutions themselves.
5. Alternative communication
Some children may feel awkward thinking on the spot: are there other ways they might open up more? What about writing them quick notes or letters and beginning a cute tradition of communicating that way now and then? Leave it under their pillow to find. Or do you get more honest answers if you email or text them? What about drawing a stick man picture with speech bubbles and asking them to reply by adding more speech bubbles and a new stick man picture in response? If they enjoy it on a trivial level you may then find you can introduce more challenging scenarios!
6. Honest birthday/Christmas cards
Maybe write a more heartfelt longer message each year, something full of praise and encouragement. These can become treasured milestones for looking back on their years and allow you to communicate things you maybe can’t on a day to day level.
It is so easy to drift on through the parenting journey; hoping we’re getting it right and hoping we’re equipping them correctly and looking out for all their needs… Mentoring is about reducing the amount of guesswork. Write down all the things you hope you’ve helped them learn and grow in by the time they are a teenager/adult… Think work-life balance, practical skills, values and principles… What do you wish you had help with when you were growing up? What do they need help with right now? How can you be an enabler in their journey through those things?
Then think practically about how you will do that. Identify and then write down action points and try to come up with intentional planned moments you can create with your child. You may need to implement things that are intentional and deliberate. That’s mentoring. Enjoy!