How do I find a mentor for my child?
That’s one of the most common questions I get from parents of kids with learning and thinking differences. My first answer—connect with Eye to Eye! From our yearly summer camp to our local chapters and diplomat program, there are plenty of ways to find a mentor.
Now, my second answer takes a little more time to explain.
The most powerful mentoring relationships start with something in common. That was true for me as a child. I was diagnosed at a young age with and and had many challenges in school. By the time I was 13, I’d spent a lot of time feeling misunderstood and not smart.
However, I also had some passions. One of them was photography. Staff at my school noticed and matched me up with a 25-year-old commercial photographer who became my mentor.
My mentor didn’t have learning or thinking differences. Yet we bonded over our common interest in photography. We got to know each other. He let me use his camera and darkroom. When we met, we talked about how to take the best shots, how cameras worked and our favorite photographs.
Working with him helped me find success outside of school. I’ll never forget selling my first photo—it sure made up for all those poor grades on spelling tests!
Today, I’m not a professional photographer, but I still love taking photos. Photography boosted my self-esteem, which had suffered in the classroom. And it all started with a common passion.
So if you’re looking for a mentor for your child, start by encouraging her interests. Here are some tips on how to do this, and other tips on finding a mentor:
- Make time for passions and interests.Maybe your child takes time for academic activities and tutoring to help her in school. And that’s really important. But it’s also vital to make time for her to develop passions and interests in other areas. If it’s doable, say yes to activities like the school play and Model UN.
- Keep an open mind and let your child lead.From art to soccer to hip-hop dancing, you’ll never know what will catch fire with your child. Keep exposing her to new experiences. Then let her decide what she likes the best.
- Connect your child to others.When you see your child developing an interest, find groups where she can plug into that interest. For example, if she loves theater, reach out to the director of a local community play. Help your child connect with others who share her passion.
- Keep in mind that a mentor can be close in age.People sometimes think a mentor needs to be a lot older than your child. But my experience is that the best mentors are often “near-peers,” meaning they are just a few years older. A near-peer can be great because kids may feel more open to sharing when a mentor doesn’t feel like an authority figure.
- Consider looking for a mentor with learning and thinking differences.As my experience with photography shows, a mentor doesn’t have to have learning or thinking differences to connect with your child. But having the bond of dyslexia, ADHD or another challenge is special. It’s important for your child to have someone in her life who can relate to her struggles with learning and thinking differences. That can be anyone—a friend, a family member or an older classmate. Your child can even have more than one mentor. Of course, it’s also possible to have a mentor who shares both a learning difference and a common passion or interest. Since 1 in 5 people have learning and thinking differences, it may be easier than you think to find a mentor.
Learn more about how having a mentor can help kids with learning and thinking differences.
Interested in finding your child a mentor who also has learning and thinking differences? Register early for this summer’s Camp Eye to Eye and apply for a half-price scholarship for your child. When you register, just type “Understood.org” under the question “How did you learn about Eye to Eye?” and complete the application. Apply today.
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About the author
Marcus Soutra is president of Eye to Eye, a national mentoring organization run by and for people with learning and thinking differences.