When we invite mentors to describe the mentors of their own youthful experience, the sentences frequently begin, “He would always…” In our annual survey question asking mentees to name the best thing about the mentor, students often start with “She always…” When anyone reminisces about friends of the past, the stories may start, “We would always…” A mentor can help anchor a child through changes large and small as well as help create special memories by establishing age-appropriate rituals for mentoring sessions.
A ritual can be as simple as beginning each visit by asking each other, “What was the high point of your week?” and “How was your low point?” One mentor in a longstanding match set the tradition that every birthday and Christmas would be marked with the gift of a book. Another, knowing that chocolate cake is the favorite dessert, brings a big slice to share on the yearly anniversary of the match. Another pair sings a special song together at the end of every meeting. Another mentor ends every meeting by reminding his mentee, “Thank your mom for letting us hang out together.” One experienced mentor was unsure about the young child’s interest in the match until one day, when he skipped his usual practice of tousling the child’s hair as a good-bye, he was touched by the child’s whining complaint: “You forgot to tousle my hair!”
Rituals are different from habits or routines. They are important not just because they are predictable but more because they carry some special meaning for the relationship.