As mentors, we have the opportunity to bring HOPE to students when we meet with them face to face. In one hour, we can bring HOPE to them when we remember these four basic needs and act on them…

  • Students need you to HEAR them.
  • Students need you to be OPEN with them.
  • Students need you to be consistently PRESENT in their lives.
  • Students need you to EMPATHIZE with them.

This week, we’ll take a closer look at the fourth need…EMPATHY. Now more than ever, students need mentors who will walk with them through whatever highs and lows they bring with them. They need trusted, caring adults who will listen well and speak wisely. They need adults who understand the difference between coddling them and caring for them. So, how do we do that well in one hour? The reality is that it takes lots of “one hours” to build the level of trust you need with a student to be able to effectively empathize with them. It takes an upfront investment of time hearing them, being open with them, and consistently being present in their lives to get that point. But, that investment of time is worth it!

Students need you to EMPATHIZE with them.

And, here are a handful of practical tips & reminders for how you can do that well in one hour…

Don’t be a “fixer.” If you’re anything like me, it’s easy to default to “fix-it” mode when students come to you needing empathy. Don’t do that…at least to start. Rather than trying to help them at the surface level (where most of our “fixing” happens), take the time to listen to them or sit quietly with them or speak words of care and encouragement to them. Oftentimes, this will lead naturally to a conversation about what to do (or not to do) next. But, let your student get their first without you just trying to “fix” their problems.

Teach/model resilience. The cultural narrative that students are often hearing right now is “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.”* We are living in a culture of fragility where students are either shielded from challenges or taught to avoid them at all costs. The problem is that challenges are a part of life, and how students learn to face them will go a long way towards determining what kind of adults they will grow up to be. As mentors, we can teach/model resilience when challenges come, and help our students learn to grow stronger in the midst of them.

*from the recent NY Times bestseller, “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting up a Generation for Failure

Show compassion. Someone once said, “Compassion is sympathy in action.” As mentors, we shouldn’t just feel sorry for our students when they need empathy. We need to be willing to take that next action step to help/come alongside them in meaningful and appropriate ways. Not sure what that next action step is for your student? If you are a mentor with Be the One, the mentor coordinator at your student’s school is a great resource! Talk to them about how you can show compassion to your student in the midst of the challenges they are facing. And, whatever you choose to do, don’t underestimate the power of a caring adult to bring HOPE to a student’s life!

Check back next month for more mentoring tips and encouragement in the Monday Mentoring Minute!

-Jason Matthews, BTO Mentor.