There is a sense of excitement and relief in the air as our young people return to school for in-person learning and extracurricular activities. With school districts putting their rules for a safe return in place, students can walk the halls, eat lunch in the cafeteria with their peers, and talk face to face with teachers. While this welcomed “back to normal” feels long overdue, we must be mindful that with it comes the insecurities, anxiety, isolation and loss brought on by the COVID pandemic, in addition to the uncertainty of what each day will bring moving forward.
When you meet with your mentee this year you may find, like all of us, they are experiencing a variety of emotions fueled by the pandemic. Mentee responses to their feelings may vary. Some may seem sad or withdrawn, others may appear irritable or angry, some may seem indifferent to it all. Mentors who were not able to meet with their mentee last year, meeting in-person for the first time in over a year or possibly the first time ever, may find these responses overwhelming. Regardless of the responses we encounter it is our role as mentors to respond with acceptance, an open heart and a listening ear. Now more than ever, we must be mindful of the complex and traumatic experiences everyone has been exposed to and practice patience, kindness, and flexibility.
Remember it is okay to allow your mentee to choose NOT to talk about their feelings right away. They may need time to get to know you again in order to reconnect. Simply spending your time having fun with games or arts and crafts can strengthen the relationship. And when they are ready to talk about their feelings, they might not have the words to describe them. You can help by sharing this emotional vocabulary list.
As mentors, we are in a unique position to support our mentee as they return to the expectations of school and their community. Whether you and your mentee are resuming your mentoring in person or virtually you can convey your support and care by simply being present and empathetic.