Three tips that can help you foster – and maintain – resilience in your mentee

Written by Justin Preston & Renée Klein Schaarsberg

To quote Benjamin Franklin, “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” It is a phrase that has become a truism over time, but it could fairly be said that Franklin was not quite exhaustive in his list of certainties. Beyond the end of the line and our yearly rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, each of us will inevitably encounter hardship. This hardship could come in the form of personal setbacks, such as job loss, or larger systemic stressors. For children, it could include failing a test or encountering bullying at school.

These challenges may change in nature and severity depending on the person and their context, but we will all have to overcome them in some form or another. Our reaction to these challenges is indicative of our resilience.

But what is this term, “resilience”? According to the American Psychological Association (APA), resilience is described as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. In other words, it means bouncing back from difficult experiences.

It is not a trait that you are simply born with or not. Being resilient involves the development of behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned by anyone.

It should be noted here, however, that the presence of resilience is not the absence of hardship, nor that the only solution to any number of challenges is simply more resilience. A person’s coping abilities can be overwhelmed by one or any number of hardships.

The concept that each of us is capable of becoming more resilient has the potential to minimize serious issues by creating an opportunity to blame an individual for “not being resilient enough” to overcome the obstacle. In other words, resilience is present in all people to varying degrees, but it should not be used to excuse injustice or those visiting hardship on others.

Different people will use different strategies to deal with the challenges they face, just as they react in different ways to them. When it comes to the development of resilience, it is a personal journey.  Having said that, it is possible for others to help us in our personal journey to develop greater resiliency.

This potential is particularly evident within the context of mentoring. But how can someone in a mentoring role contribute to building resilience in their mentee? Given that being resilient involves the development of behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned by anyone, mentors can find ways of helping to foster these traits in their mentees.

Here are three ways mentors can help to put their mentees on the path to greater resilience.

Make connections

The primary factor that contributes to resilience is the presence of supportive and caring relationships. For many children, the mentoring relationship is one such connection. However, mentors are well-positioned to be able to help their mentees practice the skills necessary to both further expand their social support network and shore up their existing connections.

Part of this process is understanding how to ask for help when it is needed, and to whom the mentee can reach out depending on the type of support they need. Trouble with a school project? Engaging with teachers can help make the challenge more manageable. Mentors can act out the process of asking for help, whether from teachers for academic support or friends for emotional support when something goes wrong in other areas of their lives.

Different people can offer different types of support, and since the challenges mentees will face will cut across every aspect of their lives in one form or another, helping them to expand the types of support available to them is helping them to be more successful in navigating those challenges.

Move toward your goals

Setting and achieving goals can help foster a sense of self-efficacy and confidence in youth, but sometimes they need support in understanding how to set achievable goals and plans for attaining them.

By collaborating with a mentee in setting goals for themselves, they can develop an understanding of their decision-making and planning process. Does a mentee need to give themselves more time with certain tasks than others? Are they more likely to do things slowly and methodically, or do they work better in making progress in clustered periods of time?

Together mentors and mentees can talk about what the mentee wants in different areas of their life, for example in school, work, friends or sports. It can be a difficult concept at first to think about the future, so it may be helpful to set a near-term timeframe for the mentee’s goals. This could be within the month, week, or even the end of the day, depending on the type of goal being set.

By discussing these themes, your mentee can get a better sense of what he or she wants in life and what they are passionate about. When you have figured out one or more goals to set, you can together begin to break them down into smaller goals. These smaller, short-term goals will provide a step-by-step plan, which makes the road towards the overall goal seem less overwhelming.

Working through this process will provide regular opportunities to move towards the bigger goal and to celebrate successes along the way. This can show the mentee that they have the power to drive success in their own lives and to make conscious decisions in order to achieve their goals.

Take care of yourself

The importance of taking care of yourself is often one that is overlooked, both in mentees and mentors alike. If we are worn down by the daily rigors of life, we are less likely to be able to successfully navigate a larger challenge if and when it arises. For this reason, finding ways to rest and recharge are a critical component of maintaining resilience throughout one’s life.

Physical activity and exercise has been shown to be beneficial for both physical and mental health, and findings ways to engage in such activities with your mentee (e.g. going on a hike, playing basketball, or just getting outside for a walk) can help to give them time to connect with themselves, you, and others.

Another way to foster a sense of “taking care of yourself” is to help your mentee find opportunities to engage in hobbies or tasks they enjoy (see the recent Chronicle article about fostering passions for more on this). This could be anything from going to the movies to learning more about a topic of interest.

As a mentor, there are several ways in which you can work together with your mentee to build resilience. What is especially important in your role as a mentor regarding this process guiding your mentee to find solutions that work for them. By doing this instead of telling them straight away what to do or how to do it, your mentee can become aware of their strengths. As mentioned before, resilience is a personal trait and what may work for you may not work for your mentee.

It is also worth noting that these skills can be just as useful for mentors as mentees, as resilience is something that can be cultivated across the lifespan. By working through and practicing these tips, it is possible to help foster greater resilience in your mentee and yourself, rendering those inevitable hardships just that much more manageable.

For more tips and information about resilience from the American Psychological Association, click here.