wikiHow to Mentor a Troubled Child

Thousands of children are crying out for someone to love and help them. There are children that have so much to offer to our world, but need a helping hand. Mentoring a child in a positive way could make a profound difference in their life. Being a mentor is someone between a parent and a friend who guides a child walking uncertain terrain. Here are steps for how to mentor a troubled child.


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    Be a friend to the needy child. Remember that you are not there to be a surrogate parent or an authority figure, but, instead, a friendly face for the child to communicate with.
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    Be a good example. "Monkey-see monkey-do" is a very true statement. If you are going to tell the child how to be a good citizen, then you need to be one. If the child hears or sees you do something, there is a good chance the child will repeat it. Always be the person that you would want your mentor to be.
    • Being a good example doesn't mean that you have to be perfect, or that you can't show your weaknesses. One thing children can - and should - learn is how to work with or around shortcomings and problems.
    • If you can apologize when you're wrong to the child as well as in front of the child, you will make a far greater impact than if you never admit mistakes. That's one of the biggest life lessons a mentor can give any child, that it's okay to be wrong and apologize.
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    Relate with the child, if it is possible. Doing so will allow the child to feel as if you understand them, especially if you share a similar story that happened in your own life. The child will then be more open with you.
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    Be honest with the child. Troubled children are often very good at detecting dishonesty, because, more than likely, they have been lied to in the past. If you cannot relate to the child, do not pretend that you can because the child will know that you are lying. Being dishonest will make it harder for the child to trust and open up to you.
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    Listen to the child. The most significant thing a child might need is someone who gives them the time of day, and listens to what they have to say. Most troubled children do not have anyone in their life who cares enough to listen to them. Mentoring a child is not always sharing your knowledge or thoughts, but allowing the child to share their life with you, and just lending a sympathetic ear.
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    Make a plan for the future. Part of mentoring is making simple long- or short-term goals for the child to accomplish. The sense of accomplishment is something every child needs; therefore, you need to help pave the way for the child's success.
    • Making plans with the child and letting the child set his or her own goals is even more powerful. Listen to the child's goals and help them refine their goal setting. Discuss them and set it up so the child's making the decision after looking at all the alternatives. That teaches independence and sensible goal setting, the achievement also becomes a lot more important to their confidence in life when they are responsible for the decision of making the goal.
    • Even goals that sound unreasonable at first glance can be broken down into many smaller ones. A child that wants a horse someday can work toward becoming knowledgeable about horses and horse care, save money, plan a life that will allow living in the country where having a horse is more practical. Listen for how often an "impossible" goal is repeated among other fantasies. If it's a deeply felt calling to a particular profession, the child would probably be happiest later in life following it - whether that's training horses, going into medicine, driving a truck, owning a restaurant, becoming an artist. People are happiest in life if they love their work.
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    Have fun with the child. Remember that the child you are mentoring is still a kid, and wants to have fun. Allowing the child to forget their past or present problems, and act their age is something they will thrive on. This will also relax the child, and make them feel like they can trust you and open up to you - because they consider you to be a friend.


  • Be a strong and positive example.
  • Listen just much, if not more, than you talk.
  • Make sure that the child knows you want to be there, and that you enjoy being with them.
  • Avoid lecturing them on what is right and wrong; they may feel as if they are being attacked.
  • When the child shares a problem they are having, share possible solutions and ramifications for their choices.


  • The child may be very disrespectful at the beginning.
  • The child may share very shocking stories, but do not let that show on your face. It's important that you accept and listen with empathy, not shock and horror. One way to prepare for this is to read stories about children facing similar or worse traumas so that you've overcome your own horror that anyone would do those things to a child. You can also share some of those survivor stories with the child, it may give them hope and belief that they too can overcome their traumas.
  • It might take a while for your child to warm up to you in order to build a close relationship. It's okay, give it time!

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