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Mini Mentors

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As you may know, January is National Mentoring Month. The idea is to offer encourage-ment to young people. You needn't look far to find mentors for the little people in your family. Inherently, you are one and so is your spouse. But mentors come in mini sizes, too.

Take my 5-year-old daughter, who is a mentor without even knowing it. Her 3-year-old and 6-month-old sisters look up to her as if she were a rock star, or better yet a princess, which is far more profound in their world.

Yep, what my first born says and does really impacts her siblings. If she talks back to me, so does my preschooler. No, my baby can't talk back yet, but I'm definitely detecting some sassy, drooly looks coming from her play mat.

The point is, we are raising a mini mentor. It's a fine line between looking to her to set the right tone for her sisters and not putting too much pressure on her. That being said, here are 10 ways to foster mini mentors in your midst:

  1. Be a role model. I can't expect my kindergartner to behave properly if I can't. It's hard, but I try every day to act in a manner I want my child to emulate. Sure, sometimes I fly off the handle at a fellow driver en route to story hour. I'm not perfect. But I try to be a good role model.
  2. Discipline. If my oldest daughter yells at her sister, she is sent to her room. Everyone is this house needs to understand what is acceptable and what isn't.
  3. Offer compliments. Today my 5-year-old helped her middle sister find a lost toy. I made sure to notice and thank her. Truly it is crucial to recognize kids not just for what they do wrong but for what they do right.
  4. Schedule one-on-one time. In a big family, individual interaction can get swallowed up by day-to-day life. That's why it is so important for my eldest daughter to know how much she matters to me. So I schedule little "dates" for just the two of us. Incidentally, I find that when she feels special, she is more likely to behave.
  5. Listen and ask questions. Every day when my daughter comes home from kindergarten, I ask her tons of questions. Sometimes she gets annoyed at me (ugh, already?!) but I want her to know how much I care about her life. Then I'll hear her ask her sister about her day: "Did you get to use glue at preschool?"
  6. Teach. When I make dinner or fill the car up with gas, I explain what I'm doing and why. More often than not my daughter is peppering me with questions anyway: "Does the car eat gas like we eat food?" or "What would happen if you forgot to turn off the oven?" Of course, sometimes it's easier to just do what I need to do without explaining myself. But seeing my little one turn around and teach her sisters something new is the reward for never enjoying a quiet moment.
  7. Show compassion. Even though my daughter is getting bigger, when she falls down and gets hurt I still pick her up and hold her. "It's okay," I whisper into her tear-soaked hair as I rock her gently. Yes, I'm comforting her, but I'm also showing her how to act compassionately towards others. Yesterday my baby was crying, and I heard her big sister shushing her and saying, "Oh honey, it's okay." (Cue mommy's heart swell.)
  8. Assign responsibility. We don't ask our first born to cut the lawn yet, but she is starting to take on mini responsibilities, like feeding the dog. Chores help her feel important and grown up.
  9. Encourage activities. We like to expose our kids to new things. If they don't like playing soccer or taking ballet, that's fine; at least they tried it. My two younger daughters see their big sister going to day camp or art class. We are enriching our eldest daughter's life while also showing her sisters that trying new things is good!
  10. Let kids be kids. It's not all about fostering my mini mentor's development. She's a kid and having fun is the most important thing.

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