How Important Is It For Parents To Mentor Their Children?
By Jo Holmes, Associate Elect & Legends Report Writer
From my experience in 20 years of teaching children, I have seen time and time again that parents react to behaviours, attitudes and actions, often out of proportion. It can be extremely challenging to give a measured response to what children do and say sometimes. From a teacher’s perspective, some of the most amazing moments in the classroom have come from simply pausing and discovering the context or intention behind what a child says or does. Beautifully revealing so much more, including the dreams they have for themselves. We want to explore the powerful effect mentoring can have when it’s learned and applied from parents to their children. One such example is Dame Jane Goodall, a world-renowned Primatologist and Anthropologist who was inspired to reach such heights by her mother. There are lessons we can all learn from her example whether we have children ourselves or not.
M. Scott Peck says in his book The Road Less Travelled:
“The quality of time their parents devote to them indicates to children the degree to which they are valued by their parents”.
Through the years, I have heard many parents talk about the struggle they face to balance their parenting role with the other responsibilities. Understandably, parents can react when trying to balance that ‘quality’ time with the time pressures each day presents. As teachers we also see many instances of parents trying hard to understand how to accommodate children’s interests and passions but they will also want to keep a peaceful household or expensive items clean! A teacher’s role is a privileged one, where most that I know want to stand together with parents to mentor and develop a child’s potential. Teachers see many parents with loving intentions but do not always see parents fully transforming that intention into consistent action.
Being a mentor and guide for children is at the core of many teacher’s hearts. Parents can also be those teachers and mentors supporting children towards that dream, however simple or complex it may be. Sadly, many parents are never taught these skills and don’t have the time nor the inclination to learn them.
If Your Involvement Guaranteed a Child Would Succeed Like Dame Jane Goodall, Would You Hesitate To Become That Mentor?
Mentoring is key in a child’s life, yet many grown-ups around them don't see that their roles should include mentoring, coaching and counselling to be effective. We will see how Jane Goodall’s parental mentoring unlocked her potential.
Are you starting to see how pivotal your role in any child's life is?
Dame Jane Goodall is world-renowned for her 6 decades spent researching and conserving chimpanzees but many don’t know the obstacles she overcame on a personal level due to her Prosopagnosia - an unusual neurological medical condition which meant she had difficulty in recognising faces of people and the chimps she dedicated her life to observing. Considering the nature of her research it helps us understand how much greater her achievements have been.
Where Did The Dreams Begin for Jane Goodall?
Visions and dreams start from a small notion or experience which has meaning for us. When we have achieved an important goal the success of this can be attributed to having that dream or vision in the first place. When I ask kids what they want to be in the future, the answers they give back are quite often incredible!
Dame Goodall says it all started for her with curiosity for understanding as she took worms from the garden into her bed to examine more closely. And later, she would go missing for hours to sit in a hen house at 4 years of age trying to see how hens laid eggs! Maybe this was the stirring of a life-long passion for animals and the curiosity of an explorer. Her drive for learning wasn’t the only contributing factor to her success. She often gives credit to her mother who encouraged her, saying:
“The person who has the most influence on me is my mother. Think of life as a flight where we fly higher and higher. If I were a bird that needs feathers to fly higher, I would regard my mother as my strongest feather.”
What Can Jane Goodall’s Experience Teach Parents About Inquisitive Children?
Can you visualise the soil and grime that come with worms and the dirty laundry? What would your first reaction be? Never mind the stress level of looking for a missing child!
Jane Goodall says that her mother responded with a voice which was all about unlocking potential in that small human, nurturing a ‘little scientist’. She focused on the consequences of Jane Goodall's actions as an opportunity for learning. She extended patience, valuing what she had to say, encouraging her to question, be curious and not be afraid to make mistakes;
“I had this wonderful, supportive mother who didn't get mad because of all the earth mucking up my bed. She just said they'd die - they needed the earth.”
~Dame Jane Goodall (DBE, Primatologist and Anthropologist)
Parent’s Mentoring Can Pave The Way to Support Children Towards Those Dreams
The early mentoring and nurturing by Jane Goodall's mother prepared the foundations for her later success. She recalls her mother’s words;
“If you really want something, and if you work hard, take advantage of the opportunities, and never give up, you will somehow find a way.”
As a teacher, I believe strongly in the crucial and vital importance of mentoring to affirm and validate interests but also to foster a sense of worth and identity. It is a powerful, necessary and essential element for the success of personal dreams that I sadly don’t see anywhere near enough of.
Dame Jane Goodall had great determination to overcome many obstacles alongside her medical condition. She overcame the financial obstacle of actually travelling to Africa. The lack of support because of her gender, then the disbelief of the scientific community for her personal and caring approach to studying the chimps rather than a more removed, cold and clinical one.
Through all that, she found a way to protect animals with her awareness, advocacy and compassion. Without the strong self-belief built up through mentorship from her mother in her childhood, there may not have been enough sense of purpose and meaning for her to choose her path and make such a significant difference in our world.
Parent’s undervalue themselves and at times can concede their role as mentor to teachers. Neither parents nor teachers can predict what the ever-changing world will be like for children as they move into adulthood. My experience tells me that, for children to be truly successful in the future, parental mentoring means supporting not protecting them from challenge and struggle.
Parents do want the best for their children and so need to continue to take the steps forward to be a better mentor for them. We need our children to be guided as they dream big. Let them stride forward towards that future, becoming the person they need to be and the healthy grown adult all parents and teachers would want them to be.
How Can Parents Take Care of The Small Steps to Help Set Up The Larger Steps Later in Life?
When you think of most people’s parenting skills, how many do you think would be adept at mentorship, coaching and counselling as a way to love and raise well-developed children?
What kind of difference do you think it would make to children if more parents were skilled in encouraging, mentoring, guiding and inspiring their children to reach their potential?
As a teacher, I’d recommend any parent to invest the time and effort in improving themselves in this area and if you’d like to ask advice on the subject please feel free to fill in the form below.
For now, I’d say to parents to look or listen out for those opportune moments where your child may be expressing curiosity about their dreams or passions. Show your child you have noticed, involve them in creating an opportunity for further discovery whether that is just talking, planning an actual experience or mapping out ideas to research together.
Be the guiding light for your child, as Dame Jane Goodall’s mother was to her. It might only be one moment, but consider those moments building over time and becoming powerful mentorship for children’s dreams.
Watch this video for a more in depth view on Jane Goodall’s view on her mother and her upbringing: