Mentoring Relationships for Children

How to Find a Mentor You Can Trust for Your Child

A young child sits on a bench with his mentor.
A solid mentoring relationship can be a gift to your child. Photo © Michele Westmorland / Getty Images

As a single parent, you may have mixed feelings about finding a mentor for your child. I even had one mom tell me recently that she worried about the message it would send as if asking for this type of help were a sign of weakness. Personally, I think it's a sign of strength; an indication that you know your child and what he needs at this point in his life. All kids—whether they come from single- or dual-parent homes—need to be surrounded by adults they can trust.

Sometimes those relationships develop naturally, and sometimes we need to help them along by finding mentors for our kids. If you're ready to take that step, here are some tips for helping your child develop a strong, solid mentoring relationship:

How to Find a Mentor
Basically, there are two ways to find a mentor for your child. You can select one yourself, or find one through a youth mentoring organization like Big Brothers Big Sisters.

  1. Using an Organization
    • Most organizations are required to perform background checks on volunteers and paid mentors. Take steps to find out, specifically, what kinds of research they do. The most thorough background checks include four sources: the child abuse and neglect registry, your state's fingerprint database, the federal fingerprint database, and the sex offender registry.
    • Mentoring organizations also train their mentors in basic communication skills and safety procedures.
    • Your child will be matched with a mentor based on her interests, age, and needs.
    • However, you may not be allowed to accompany your child on outings, at least initially.
  1. Choosing a Mentor Yourself
    • If you decide to ask a friend or family member to mentor your child, be sure to select someone you know extremely well—and have known for a long period of time.
    • Make sure it's someone you've chosen and not someone who's chosen you (or your child).
    • In general, it's best to pair boys with male mentors and girls with female mentors.
    • Consider conducting your own background check. Searching the sex offender registry is free, and you can learn a lot by visiting the website for your local sheriff's department, too.
    • Talk openly about your expectations. It might be best to start with a small time commitment and allow the relationship to develop naturally.
    • Host a few gatherings at your home initially, so that you can see how your child responds to his mentor.
    • Consider tagging along for a few outings, too, to make sure your child is comfortable before they go on any outings without you.

    Establishing Ground Rules

    Whether you choose a family member or friend to mentor your child, or you go through an organization, make sure that you're of one mind about the rules and expectations. Here are a few issues to consider:

    • Are you okay with your child and his mentor being friends on Facebook?
    • Are there any times of day (or days of the week) when the mentor shouldn't call or text your child?
    • How will you handle schedule conflicts—particularly if your child's visits with her mentor were to conflict with your ex's parenting time?
    • Are there places you don't want the mentor to take your child?
    • What about transportation? What forms are okay with you, and what rules apply—for example, about seat belt use or alcohol?
    • What other rules or guidelines are important to you?

    Nurturing the Relationship

    Consider, too, how you're going to help your child's relationship with his mentor grow. Some parents check in with their kids' mentors on a weekly basis, to let them know what's going on in the child's life and to find out what activities the mentor has planned. Talk with your child about the relationship, too. He especially may need your reassurance that relationships—and trust—take the time to develop.

    Keep in mind, too, that your child will probably have a lot more fun if he doesn't feel pressure to confide in his mentor or become super-good-buddies right away.

    The Fruit of Mentoring Relationships
    You're probably familiar with the general benefits of mentoring relationships—that they help kids identify their strengths, work through challenges, and reach their true potential. But there are real, tangible benefits in the short-term, too—like seeing your child's self-confidence skyrocket because there's someone in the world who cares about her "who doesn't have to." Sometimes that acknowledgment is all it takes. And when she begins to believe in her herself the way her mentor does, you'll know the effort you put into building the relationship was worth it!

    This content is provided in partnership with National 4-H Council. 4-H experiences help GROW confident, caring and capable kids. Learn more by visiting their website