Help your Mentee Express their Emotions
When I first started with BEST Kids, I was the Youth Engagement Specialist. In this role, I was in charge of working with the male youth in the program who had yet to be matched. I served as their temporary mentor until we were able to provide them with their own permanent one. It was this effort, working one-on-one with mentees, that helped me cultivate my passion of supporting young boys transitioning into manhood.
Throughout that time I learned a few things that helped me get my mentees to open up to me - sharing how they felt about themselves and life in general. After transitioning over to the Mentoring Support Specialist position. I would hear things from mentors about how they have struggled with connecting with their mentee.
I remember being asked “Do all youth in foster care have a difficult time sharing their feelings?” My response to that statement was or course not. Youth are humans just like adults. They all have the capacity to display a wide range of emotions. It just matters whether or not they trust you.
Let me make this clear, youth that are in foster care are not always angry or sad. So if you have that expectation of them in your mind, I challenge you to get rid of that thought process.
Here are a few steps I have adapted to connect with the mentees in the program:
Draw parallels to movies or TV shows
For many youth, movies and TV shows are one of the few venues in their lives where moments of interpersonal support and closeness are accepted. Concepts of emotional awareness are often key to successful relationships, and they can express empathy via insight gained through their own personal achievements or disappointments. This gives them an understanding of what their friends on the team may be feeling after a particularly rough day or experience.
Nurture their curiosity
Find opportunities to help your mentee reflect on the people around them that they care about. What do they like about them? What don’t they know but would like to know? Curiosity can be just as important in a friendship as empathy.
Acknowledge the moments when they cry
In your mentoring relationship with your mentee, allow them to cry in front of you, whether it is regarding a tough loss in their life or a friend said something hurtful, being there for them and willing to listen to what they have to say can be a big first step in getting them to talk about the underlying emotions.
Help them recognize their friends’ boundaries
It can seem like kids these days don’t interact with each other if they aren’t swapping friendly insults. This, though they may describe it as normal, can be an issue when someone pushes the envelope a little too far. Use these moments to explain that, if a friend seems to be upset or stops engaging, it may be time to cool it on the jokes.
Give them an emotional vocabulary
By expanding an emotional vocabulary, you are helping your mentee to better understand his feelings during particular events or exchanges. A good friend lets them borrow one of their games? That’s a demonstration of trust that he’ll take care of it and bring it back. Helping your mentee put names to these experiences can go a long way in helping them make sense of their own emotions and talk about them with others.
Teach them to repair relationship rifts
This one can be difficult, in that it may seem easier to just walk away from a difficult situation in a friendship. If your mentee is having friend troubles, talk to them about a time you had a difficult period with a close friend of yours. How did you resolve it and rebuild your relationship? You can help to set the blueprint for your mentee to follow.
Adolescence and the teen years can be challenging and confusing for what seems like a million different reasons. By helping your mentee become more comfortable with their emotions and their connections to those around them, you can help to give them the tools they may need to experience healthy and happy friendships and relationships as they grow older.
As we approach the end of the year, the BEST Kids team wanted to continue to highlight the people that make our program possible: our mentors and mentees! Despite the pandemic, we were able to catch up with a few of our mentoring matches. In this post we will be highlighting one of our older youth, Cynthia, and her mentee, Andrea. Take a look at our team’s conversation with Cynthia and Andrea below. Thank you so much to Cynthia and Andrea!
BK: Meet Cynthia and Andrea!
C: My name is Cynthia Jackson. I’m 22 years old and I’ve been in foster care since I was 15, shortly after the birth of my daughter. I joined BEST Kids in 2017 during my senior year of high school.
A: My name is Andrea Cilliers. I’m 31 years old and moved to the DC area from Chicago a few years ago. I’d participated in volunteer work prior to moving to DC and knew that I wanted to continue to volunteer when I moved to the area. When I found BEST Kids in 2018 it just felt right. I truly felt it was God leading me here. I was matched with Cynthia shortly after and the rest is history.
BK: Tell us a little about your relationship.
C: I met Miss Andrea in March of 2018. I’d had a mentor with BEST Kids before and was a little unsure about being re-matched. But, meeting Miss Andrea was fun. I’d never had anyone in my life who wanted to just be there for me. Anytime I’m feeling down, need advice, or simply want to talk to someone, I know I can call my mentor and we can talk about anything. Both my mentor and the staff at BEST Kids have helped me prepare for the outside world - from advocating for myself through emancipation to changing placements several times and beyond. While Miss Andrea came into my life as my mentor, over the past two years, she has become a true friend.
A: Like Cynthia said, we’ve been matched since early 2018, so just over two years at this point. My relationship with Cynthia is probably a little bit different than the average BEST Kids’ mentor/mentee relationship. When you think of foster care you think of younger children or teens but Cynthia was 20 years old when we were matched and she’s 22 now. We aren’t that far off in age and she’s always had access to her own phone so we’ve used FaceTime, texts, and calls to connect a lot more than a younger mentee probably would. While being matched with a mentee as old as Cynthia is not exactly, what I expected when I first heard of the program, it’s been amazing. Cynthia has become a staple in my life and someone I can truly call a friend. Our relationship is perfect for us.
BK: What was your favorite activity with your mentor/mentee?
C: Miss Andrea and I went kayaking with Team River Runner at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last year. I’d never been kayaking before and was hesitant to go because I can’t swim. But, Miss Andrea encouraged me and was with me the whole time. Once we got out on the water I ended up having a lot of fun. That was a great experience and I would love to do it again.
A: That’s probably my favorite activity as well! Team River Runner is a great organization and it was good to get out on the water. I find water activities so calming.
BK: How have you grown from being paired with your mentor/mentee?
C: Having a mentor has completely changed my outlook on life because I have someone who feels like a best friend. I wish I had known about mentoring earlier in my life. The support of my mentor and the team at BEST Kids has meant the world to me, and I hope to one-day pass that support along by becoming a foster parent to a child who has had a difficult experience like me.
A: Cynthia had a lot of changes in her life right after we were matched. Our journey to get to know one another took a lot of flexibility. But, getting to know her and watching her advocate for herself and others even when she’s dealing with tough situations has caused me to reflect a lot on myself. I’m in constant awe of her. It’s also great to get out and just have some fun!
BK: How has being a part of BEST Kids impacted you?
C: My journey has not been easy. After entering foster care, I was separated from my siblings, placed in over 10 foster homes, lost my mother at a young age, went through emancipation, and more. Before joining BEST Kids, it was hard for me to open up and talk about some of the experiences I’ve been through. But since being a part of the program and being matched with Miss Andrea, I’ve come a long way. Over the years in the BEST Kids program I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer, try new experiences, feel empowered, advocate for myself and other youth in foster care, make a lifelong friend, and be a part of a loving community.
A: The beautiful thing about meeting Cynthia at this stage in her life is that it has allowed me be truly reflective on my younger years. I’ve been able to relate to Cynthia by thinking of myself at that age and honestly, I don’t think that I would have handled many things as well as Cynthia does. She’s simply amazing. She’s become a good friend and really important person in my life. I cherish our relationship because while I can be there for her, she is also there for me. There are many things that Cynthia has experienced, like motherhood, that I have not yet encountered. Cynthia is full of wisdom and courage and being her mentor pushes me to better just as much as it pushes her. Our relationship is truly a two-way street.
BK: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you and your relationship with your mentor/mentee?
C: I have asthma so during the pandemic a lot of things are on hold for me. But, my mentor has been there for me the whole time. We talk often and I know she’s always there to help me when I need her.
I received COVID assistance through BEST Kids. I’m very grateful for the team’s help. I mostly used that money to pay my phone bill. I’m in the process of looking for a new job and keeping my phone on so that I can get calls for interviews and things has been really important.
A: Thankfully, my relationship with Cynthia has not been impacted drastically. I usually travel a lot for work and being grounded at the moment means that I’ve actually had more time to talk and connect with Cynthia. While we have not been able to do much exploring this year, I’m happy to say that we have remained connected and even got to see each other in person a few times to catch up. We’ve been following social distance guidelines, of course, but have been able to take a few walks, go bowling, and even get a massage.
Though our relationship has not been impacted negatively through COVID, we know that is not the case for many mentoring relationships through BEST Kids. My relationship with Cynthia is a little different because she is a little older and has always has access to a phone. I know that I can always get in touch with her and even before the pandemic we were connected via FaceTime, text, and calls a lot more than matches with younger mentees. I can’t imagine what this would have been like if she did not have access to a phone and I was unable to get in touch with her. Amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, one thing is clear, staying connected to others is critically important.
BK: What is one thing you would like to share with anyone considering becoming a BEST Kids mentor or supporter?
C: Without programs like BEST Kids, children and young adults in the foster care system may not have a loving and supportive community. I wish I had known about mentoring earlier in my life because I think it would have really helped with learning healthy coping habits. In the past, I had trouble with my emotions and often let me attitude get the best of me. I can look back now and learn from my behavior and with the help of my mentor, the BEST Kids program, and the Foster Care system I understand more about the power of a positive attitude and how to look at life differently.
The BEST Kids program isn’t just a fun program that provides unique opportunities, it is also important for kids in the foster care system to build trust with an adult figure who is there because they really care. Now that I am aging out of the system I hope to someday be a foster parent to take care of a child who also had a difficult experience like me.
A: BEST Kids is a community of support and love that fosters diversity and inclusion more than any other organization that I’ve been a part of. Becoming a mentor with BEST Kids and befriending Cynthia has been one of the best decisions I’ve made since moving to the DC area. Without a network of support, it would be challenging for anyone to overcome most of life’s obstacles. Being a part of this program connects us as neighbors in this community and speaks life into the idea that no one should have to feel alone because we can truly all benefit from the gifts of others. The reach and impact these programs can have on the youth as well as the volunteers is both tangible and intangible. We can see the transformation of a person’s outlook and circumstance that permeates throughout the rest of their life. I am fortunate to have found this program and to have been matched with Cynthia.
You can help support the mission of BEST Kids and help keep mentor/mentee matches - like Cynthia and Andrea - together through COVID and beyond by giving to BEST Kids today! Give now!
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