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Mastering Mentoring

You don’t necessarily have to be a parent or a teacher to be involved in a child’s life and take him or her under your wing.

This post is in partnership with Pepsi Refresh Project

You don’t necessarily have to be a parent or a teacher to be involved in a child’s life and take him or her under your wing. Whether you’re an aunt, big brother, or have lots of friends with little ones, you can create learning moments with the hard-won knowledge from your life experiences. Here are some tips on how to be an effective mentor.

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Mentoring is most successful when it's based on long-term relationships. “The key to success is not one or two moments, but consistent time spent together and building a relationship built on long-term support, encouragement, and trust,” says Kelly Williams, spokesperson for Big Brothers Big Sisters. When you’re consistently present, young ones know that they can trust you and share with you."

Tell a story

“There are six magic words you can say to capture the attention of any child or adult, and they are: ‘Let me tell you a story’,” says LeeAnn Renninger, Ph.D, founder and director of LifeLabs New York. “The human brain is wired to learn via story—throughout our evolutionary history, the most important lessons for survival and group bonding were passed on in story or folklore.”

Be willing to open up

It helps to make a connection, especially with teens, if you’re willing to be vulnerable. “When you say, ‘I struggled just like you when I was your age,’ that creates a level playing field,” says Gene Bowen, founder of Road Recovery, an organization that helps young people fight addiction.

Make the learning process experiential

“A teacher helps children find their own path to knowledge by triggering their curiosity,” says Renninger. “But mentors do something more—they design experiences so children can find their path to wisdom.” Rather than simply telling the child something, consider thinking up an experience that lets her find her own way to knowledge. “Think of something you’re good at, and how you learned it,” she poses. “People almost always say they learned something they’re good at by practicing and doing it. We learn best by experiencing because it’s multi-modal and requires more movement from the brain.”

Make the learning process kinesthetic

With young ones, “there has to be action involved, so engage them,” says Bowen. It helps to teach by incorporating movement, which aids in anchoring the knowledge in something tactile and visual. For example, if a child wants to learn the order of the planets, help them “plant” the planets invisibly on his arm, from his shoulder to his hand, recommends Renninger. Adding an element of surprise helps them remember, too.

Know that mentoring is a two-way street

“Great mentors have the ability to still learn and remain teachable,” says Bowen. “They see the child or teen as teachers, too, and the reciprocal relationship is a win-win for both.”

Read more from the GOOD Guide to the School of Life here.

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