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Building an alliance with parent(s)

In order to achieve better outcomes, creating a strong relationship with your mentee’s parents and families will be important as well. Creating an alliance with the family can help in deciding on goals for your work with the youth, building up on strengths and collaboratively deciding on approach and future steps. 

Note: in this training we refer to working with parents, but not all mentees may have their parents in their lives. These skills should be used when working with any caregiver, whether they’re parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, foster families, or adult siblings.

The best practices we discussed so far will be helpful for building those relationships as well! 

A few important things to remember for working with parents:

Understand their contribution

Parents’ involvement is extremely important to the success of the mentoring relationship. Parents understand their children best and make important decisions everyday for their children’s well-being. You should know this as a mentor, and work collaboratively with them to support their child. Be open to their suggestions and requests. Parents may be great resources for practicing strategies with the youth, or identifying new behaviors and patterns that can be adopted within the home.

Agree on goals

Remember that parents might have a different perspective on needs, expectations and strengths, for their child and for themselves. Having a collaborative discussion with both youth and parents will be helpful to get everyone’s agreement on goals and roles. In cases of disagreement, work to find common ground and have a respectful and open dialogue.

Keep the lines of communication open

Parents have different ways of managing their children’s lives. Some want to be directly involved with anyone who is in contact with their child. Others monitor situations by carefully attending to their children and responding to their cues and communications about how things are going. 

As a mentor, it is important to find out how the parent would like to connect and communicate about the relationship between you and your mentee. Regardless, it is important that you let the parents know that you are open to hearing from them any time. 

Note: remember that open communication with the parent doesn’t require you to fully share sensitive information their child has confided in you. Part of your relationship with the mentee is confidentiality and you should maintain their trust in you. This is a challenge for mentors, especially when working with adolescents, but your role is to balance the parents’ needs and wants to know about your work with their child, and your mentee’s needs and wants for autonomy and confidentiality.

Show respect

People can have very different and quite strongly held ideas about parenting practices. It is important that you show respect for your mentee’s family and their caregiving practices and approaches. 

As a mentor, you are supporting your mentee’s caregiver in their job as the primary adult in the child’s life. There may be times when you observe a parent doing something quite differently from how you might approach the situation. This can sometimes even stir up strong emotions. These emotions come from your concern for your mentee. Rather than react or remain focused on what you would do, take the time and effort to understand the family’s parenting practices and and what matters most to them.

If you are worried about the safety of the child, please contact your organization to discuss your responsibility to report this information.

Express interest in their community and cultural context

Often times mentors and mentees have very different backgrounds and experiences. It can be tempting to focus on showing your mentee how you do things in your family and community. It is important to also invest in understanding your mentee’s family and community context. 

If you’re unfamiliar with their culture or background, express curiosity! You can start by asking questions like, “how do you usually celebrate this holiday?”

To learn more about culturally competent mentoring, see this comprehensive resource from the National Mentoring Resource Center