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Mentoring Children

Children and youth look up to mentors. A mentor
can make all the difference in the life of a child.

A Hidden Blessing
by Tani Kingston

Everyone agrees that communication is important - with your spouse, your coworkers, your boss. When it comes to children, however, communication is vital, and unfortunately, often ignored. Every parent knows that children need attention, regardless of age. The best attention they can get are open ears and an open heart. When children are ignored, they can develop a wide range of deficiencies ranging from a lack of social skills and moral values to low self-esteem, depression and poor academic performance. Open communication with adults is especially essential for teenagers as they learn to define their place in the world.

Research clearly shows that one-on-one interaction with children is foundational to their moral and ethical development, as well as for the development of their critical thinking skills and maturity. Children gain skills and learn about successful living and relationship building through their interactions with parents, teachers and other significant adults who enter their lives.

Experts say that what most powerfully impacts a child may seem unimportant at first. Random acts of caring and spontaneous interest are far more influential than planned activities and teaching, though these are also necessary. Dr. Steven Glenn and Jane Nelsen who authored Raising Self-Reliant Children In a Self-Indulgent World explains how dialogue develops a child's self-image. When young people are given the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue with people they admire, they begin to perceive themselves as significant in the sight of adults. In addition, they absorb our values, thinking patterns and ideals.

What are some of the moments that make a difference in a child's life? When we compliment them on what they do well.... When we teach and encourage them.... When we are sensitive to their needs and feelings.... When we give them the support they need.... When we are good role models. The opportunities are endless to initiate a conversation with a child and give him/her your undivided attention. Share a life story, play a game, tell a joke or take a walk together!

Most parents do not spend enough time talking with their children. Studies show quality time ranges an average of 7 to 15 minutes a day. Television has displaced family interaction in the home. Children generally spend hours a day in front of the set, both with and without their parents. The television culture may have devastating consequences as it usurps dialogue which is fundamental for children to develop critical thinking, moral and ethical understanding, bonding, closeness and trust. Research is also showing that too much television watching has negative effects on brain development and learning.

We have all heard the African proverb: "It takes an entire village to raise a child." As extended families disappear, children need interaction with other significant adults more than ever. Take a moment and think about your own childhood and about the grown-ups in your life, other than your parents, who positively influenced you and guided you. What were their outstanding qualities that made an impression on you? Were they accepting, sensitive, perceptive, patient, genuine or fun? The interactions we had with significant adults changed our lives. Now is our turn to play this role for children around us, building relationships that will nourish their souls and develop solid foundations in their lives. All children appreciate attention because it conveys to them that they are loved. Your gift can be as simple as offering an encouraging word, showing kindness or comforting a child whose feelings are hurt.

As we give to children, we also reap a reward. As we put our busy lives on hold for a few moments to bond with a child, we also benefit from the exchange of love, warmth and sincerity. Talking to a child brings a ray of sunshine to our lives. Let us not miss these priceless opportunities to make a difference in a child's life and receive a wonderful blessing.

Tani Kingston's background is in teaching and school administration. She especially enjoys working with youth groups.


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