How to Guide People Younger than You

Being the "more mature" one in a friendship, family relationship, or other kind of team can put a lot of pressure on you. How do you handle the responsibility of guiding people younger than you? It doesn't have to be a huge ordeal; with little actions and habits, you can make a big positive impact on someone younger than you.


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    Teach younger children fun things you learned to do when you were their age. When they've mastered some of these things, teach them things you've recently learned to do. Younger children often like the sense of pride that comes from knowing how to do something only older children know how to do.
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    Treat them kindly as they learn. Kindness and firmness can go hand in hand when you're teaching a younger child how to do something. If there is a right way to do something you're teaching them, show them in an entertaining way what happens when you do it the wrong way. For instance, if you are teaching them to tie their shoe laces, tie only one of yours and pretend you've tripped on the untied lace. Sometimes a little theatrics help to reinforce the importance of doing something the right way.
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    Teach them several things at a time. Younger children can master several new things in a day, so keep things lively by teaching them how to do several things at a time. This will help you to avoid repeating yourself to the point of boredom for all involved, or provoking a fight. If they find one of the things difficult, encourage them to focus on learning one of the other things. For instance, teach younger children how to make their own glass of chocolate milk, how to tie their shoes and how to make their bed. Celebrate their new skills at the end of the day and minimize the impact of any failures they've encountered while learning.
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    Entice and encourage but don't make up or exaggerate negative consequences of not following your advice. There is no benefit to creating neurosis, addiction or terror in a child who's anxious to learn from you. Avoid statements that evoke fear to force them to comply with what you are teaching them. For instance, telling a child to save every penny they earn or find or they'll end up on the streets, starving and homeless evokes unnecessary fears and exaggerates the consequences for not saving each and every penny earned or saved. A strong-willed child will not trust you and a timid child may believe you to their detriment, but both will think you a fool when they're older and know better. It is better to be balanced and honest in the reasons you offer in support of your lessons. For instance, you can tell a child that you are treating them to ice cream for desert because you saved all the money you've found and earned that week.
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    Help them comprehend what we refer to as "Basic Needs". At meal time, tell them that the food they are eating is a "basic need". When it is bedtime, tell them a story that spells out exactly what a basic need for a human is. These basic needs include food, water, shelter (even if it is a tent, a car, or a box) and to love. Ask them questions about what they consider a basic need and steer explain to them why each thing they name is or isn't a qualifying "basic need". Encourage them to say "I want" when talking about non-essentials such as an expensive phone, video game, or laptop, and "I need" when referring to the real basic needs they experience.
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    Emphasize the importance of time spent with the immediate family. Explain who the members of your immediate family are and do not include anyone else. Many people include their best friend in this important list, and while you may feel like your best friend is a part of your family, they are not. Telling young children anything different confuses their understanding of a family unit and how important it is that this exclusive group be treated differently than people we deeply care about, but who are not directly related. Encourage them to care about others deeply, but not to the point of putting others interest above the family's before they are mature enough to know that the bonds of relationships do break. Emphasize to them that their immediate family members will help them feel better as they begin to discover painful relationships with those outside and inside the family unit.
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    Be honest. Speak honestly when they ask you for advice, or you see they are struggling. Growing up is difficult and not always fun. When the bad times come, preserve their dignity and help them cope with whatever has gone wrong. For instance, if you discover that a young teen has started taking drugs, be honest with them about the potential outcomes. Take them to a hospital to ensure that they are not in a critical state, then spend some time talking to them about the real consequences of drug taking. Never encourage anyone to scare the young person. Scare tactics rarely have the intended impact on a teen using drugs. There is a sense of hopelessness and recklessness being experienced by such a teen and, while they need the extra attention you are giving them, scare tactics will only heighten their sense of hopelessness. If they have become addicted to drugs, have them committed for treatment and reinforce to them regularly that this is not the worst thing that could have happened to them and assure them that things will be better very soon. (Even if you are wrong, you will have lifted their spirits and helped them cope with a very difficult issue.) Remember that even if you believe they are ruining their life with this boyfriend or girlfriend or that, or by going to this school or another, they may simply be following a different path than you chose.
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    Teach them to be independent. By your actions and your words, show a young child or young person the importance of self-sufficiency, persistence and determination. Encourage them to do their best regardless of the task at hand. If they are cleaning their room, tell them how impressed you are that they are becoming independent and responsible in doing so. Acknowledge and reward them for their accomplishments. Remember that they have no frame of reference when you begin talking about the future, and you don't know their future either, so teach them to cook, to clean, to defend themselves, and to love others. Hold independent people up to them and show respect for them so the younger person recognizes what independence really is and how it plays out for those older than him or herself.
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    Confront their mistakes privately. Treat them the way you would want to be treated if you made a mistake. Confront them with the mistake and help them figure out the best way to correct that mistake, if correcting it is possible. If correcting the mistake is not possible, help them understand the consequences of their mistake and the importance of them accepting responsibility for their actions. Teach them to say "I'm sorry" when they are in the wrong and not follow the apology with explanations that nullify the apology. For instance, if a child has hurt another child's feelings, tell them that they must go to the child they hurt and apologize. Tell them that the words "I'm sorry" are enough, unless the offended person asks them why they did what they did. Otherwise the excuses they may instinctively follow the "I'm sorry" with will excuse the bad behavior in their young minds.
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    Encourage them to read. Try not to limit or direct what they find interesting, just keep a regular appointment with the public library, a time of day each day they are permitted to be online, and/or keep a variety of books handy for them o choose from. Read to them and read in front of them; they will mimic you and try to impress you by doing so. Ask them about what they've read or learned and encourage them by showing an interest in what they find interesting.
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    Demonstrate and encourage them to be helpful to others. Volunteer with a young person to help them get comfortable with the concept of doing for others, but try to avoid burdening their little hearts with hard-luck stories that might compel a jaded adult to help another. Focus their attention, while they are helping others, on the affect their activities are having on the person they are helping. Teach them to do for others in secret. This will help them understand that they are not to help others for the kudos, rewards or positive attention they receive as a result, but for the other person to have a less difficult time in their life or day. If they cannot be compelled to help another, leave them hanging when they need you to help them and tell them you won't do for them what they will not do for others. This may help drive the concept home for them.
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    Demonstrate courtesy and having a gentle spirit when dealing with others. Berating a young person for being rude or rough with others only reinforces to the young person that their calloused attitude toward others is the norm (at least in your opinion). Speak respectfully to them and treat them with dignity, even when you are frustrated or angry. By your actions and direction they will understand when people say to treat others the way you would want to be treated. If they've received good treatment from you, they will most often give you the same in return. If you've lashed out at them violently, they will at least want to lash out violently against you when they are frustrated or angry.

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Categories: Leadership and Mentoring