Navigating Tough Conversations

Has your mentee ever asked you a question or brought up a topic you found difficult to discuss? How prepared are you to have difficult conversations with your mentee? Topics like sex, politics, drugs or religion can be hard to talk about, especially with children. Sometimes, it is not the topic itself that is challenging, but the discomfort about the topic that makes it difficult.  We have a framework to help navigate these conversations and support your mentees. 

The framework below gives you a “roadmap” for tough conversations:

  • Listen
  • Empathize
  • Ask Open Ended Questions 
  • Teach/Model/Share

You may want to process or learn why your mentee brings up difficult topics. Ask open ended questions to gain a better understanding of why the subject is on your mentee’s mind (i.e., “What makes you ask that?”) and help your mentee think critically about it. You could find that your mentee is not actually interested in your private life, but is interested in exploring what they have seen or heard to develop a better understanding and their own opinion about it. They might be bringing up hard topics just to see if you’ll still stick around and listen even when things get tough (this is the “negotiating” stage of the relationship we discussed in your New Mentor Orientation). Boundaries are okay, too – if your mentee is asking questions about something you are not prepared to discuss, you can set a boundary and model respecting privacy by stating you are not comfortable talking about it.

To further support your mentee through a tough conversation you might be tempted to teach, model, or share your own relevant experience.  While this can be a useful tool at times, use discretion regarding how often you talk about how you tackled tough situations and what lessons you learned.  As their trusted adult friend, your main role is to serve as a safe place for them to explore their own thoughts and ideas. Often you will likely find it is not necessary for you to contribute your own opinions or ideas. 

If your mentee makes an outcry of abuse or neglect, you are legally required to report what was relayed to you to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services within 48 hours. While it may be tempting to ask questions and collect facts, that can actually hinder a formal investigation. For this reason, it is best to stick to feelings and simply listen and validate. Then reach out to your Mentor Director to help you process your own feelings.  If your mentee shares something that does not require a CPS report, but is still worrisome (i.e., experiencing depression or bullying) you can ask your mentee how they feel about speaking with the School Contact and if they’d like you to accompany them.

When your mentee decides to open up to you, they are signaling that they want to connect with you and that is exactly where you want to be! By following the framework to navigate difficult conversations with your mentee, your relationship will have the opportunity to deepen and grow stronger.


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