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Three things mentors can do to help their mentees cope with stress


By Katie Hurley, the Washington Post

A young girl sits in my office, describing the “swishy” feeling that she gets in her stomach when she’s at school. It tends to happen at drop-off, just after lunch and as she watches the clock tick toward the end of the day.

It happens so often that she knows she’s not actually sick, but it bothers her just the same. She can’t find a way to make it go away, and that makes it hard to concentrate.

The thing is, she actually is sick to her stomach. This 7-year-old is, quite literally, worried sick. Stress and anxiety trigger that “swishy” feeling in her stomach, and without adequate strategies to work through it, that feeling is there to stay.

By the time young worriers get to me, they’ve been silently fighting these feelings for quite some time. Although kids are under increased stress these days, most don’t really know what it means to feel stress.

What they do know is that they have headaches, stomachaches, nightmares and an intense feeling of wanting to stay close to home.

According to the results of the Stress in America Survey released by the American Psychological Association, teens report higher levels of stress than adults during the school year. Findings from the survey show that 31 percent of teens report feeling overwhelmed by stress, 30 percent say stress makes them sad or depressed, and 36 percent have experienced fatigue because of stress.

Yet nearly half of teens surveyed (42 percent) responded that they aren’t doing enough, or aren’t sure if they’re doing enough, to manage their stress.

If teens, who are fairly aware of the stress impacting their lives, struggle to find ways to manage, how can we expect younger children to cope?

Here’s the deal: Kids experience stress and discomfort and they will encounter difficult situations. It’s impossible to completely remove stress from the lives of our children. There isn’t a way to stress-proof our children. What we can do, though, is teach our kids to be stress-savvy.

When we take the time to educate our children about stress and teach them strategies to use when they feel anxious and overwhelmed, we not only normalize the complex emotions that sometimes confuse young children, but we teach them how to manage and cope with their stress.

Here’s how to do it:


Help them connect the dots. 

Childhood stress can be hard to spot. The symptoms often mimic common physical complaints and it can be hard to know when to intervene.

The problem, of course, is that if it is left untreated, stress can result in anxiety, depression, poor school performance and exacerbated symptoms of asthma, allergies and diabetes.

To help your child connect the dots, draw the outline of a body and pinpoint different places where stress can cause problems. It’s important to address the fact that all kids are different.

If your child has frequent headaches before or after school, for example, it could be a symptom of stress. For another child, however, stomach problems might be the obvious clue.

Talk about the fact that muscle tension in the arms can result in aches and pains in the arms, shoulders and neck. Discuss how grinding the teeth and tensing the jaw can lead to headaches.

The more kids understand the connection between symptoms and stress, the better able they will be to seek help. To that end, talk about these common symptoms of stress in kids:

  • Headaches and stomachaches
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Nightmares
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Quick to anger or frequent tears for unknown reasons
  • Not wanting to participate in normal daily activities
  • Nervous or anxious habits such as nail biting and hair twirling/pulling
  • Withdrawing from friends
  • Behavioral regression


Create a stress-free zone. 

All kids are different, and there is no one “right” way to cope with stress. Most young children can benefit, though, from having a designated spot where they can escape. The particular location can vary from child to child, to suit their personalities.

For a child who loves music and art, for example, create a corner that includes a music player with headphones, art supplies and a cozy spot to sit, listen and create. For a more active kid who needs to move, the retreat might be stocked with a jump rope, stress balls and dough to pound.

Coloring books are a great way for kids to release pent-up tension while taking a break (there’s a reason those “adult” coloring books are so popular), and bubbles can help kids learn to utilize deep breathing.


Find a deep breathing exercise that works.

Deep relaxation breathing is the best way to calm down when stress and/or anxiety become overwhelming. Given that everyone has individual needs and preferences, there isn’t one magic breathing exercise that works for all. Try these, and practice daily:

  • Rainbow Breathing: Ask your child to sit comfortably with his eyes closed and practice breathing in for a count of four, holding for four, then breathing out for four. Take an imaginary walk on a rainbow while your child practices deep breathing. Ask your child to think about his favorite red things on the red stripe, his favorite orange things on orange and continue until you finish the rainbow.


  • Balloon breathing: Blowing up balloons is a great metaphor for kids because they understand that to inflate a balloon you need to use controlled breathing. Ask your child to close his eyes and count his breathing while imagining that he’s inflating a balloon of his favorite color. When the balloon is full, cue your child to visualize the balloon floating away into the clouds.


  • Guided imagery: Some kids enjoy storytelling, and this can be a great way to calm the senses while engaging in deep breathing. Have your child sit comfortably with his eyes closed and ask him to describe an imaginary place he would like to visit. While your child focuses on his breathing, take him on a guided trip to his calming destination. Be sure to provide gentle reminders about slow, deep breathing along the journey.


Childhood stress can have a variety of triggers, and it can sneak up on kids. Open and honest communication about feelings and emotions reminds kids that they can seek help when life feels complicated, but the best gift you can give your child is unconditional love. Kids will encounter stress and hard days, that’s part of life. Knowing that you will listen and help them empowers them to work through their stress, instead of stuffing it down and potentially making it worse.

Reprinted from: The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring by Justin Preston, July 12, 2016

How The Barber, And Other Caring Adults, Help Kids Succeed


Anya Kamenetz, nprED

In a working-class city in southeast Michigan there’s a barbershop where kids get a $2 discount for reading a book aloud to their barber.

“Any help these kids can get with reading and … comprehension is a big thing,” said Ryan Griffin, the veteran barber who instituted the program. “You know, maybe someday some kid will grow up and be a journalist, be a writer, and he’ll say, ‘You know what, when I was young, my barber used to make me read.’”

We published a story about Griffin and the shop two weeks ago and ever since they have been overwhelmed with praise, donations and requests for interviews from all over the country and the world. That left of us wondering why exactly this story went viral.

Maybe it’s because Griffin’s sentiment, about helping kids succeed, resonates with a lot of us.

Take this recently released first-of-its-kind study that found for every 1 percent increase in the adult-to-youth ratio in a given community, there was a 1 percent decrease in the rate of young people dropping out before graduating high school.

In other words, simply having more grownups around helped kids to stay on track.

The authors of the report, Jonathan F. Zaff and Thomas Malone, call this phenomenon “adult capacity” and found that the effect was 30 percent stronger in predominantly African-American communities, where for every five more adults there was roughly one less dropout.

America’s Promise Alliance, a youth advocacy group, released the report, which looked exclusively at metropolitan areas across the U.S. by ZIP code.

Some of these adults are in regular contact with young people, like parents, teachers, school bus drivers, crossing guards, or those who work directly with youth in places of worship or community based organizations.

Others provide “eyes on the street.” In the words of urban theorist Jane Jacobs, reinforcing safety, community norms and values. Still others may be neighbors or friends who directly mentor and nurture young people or support even their parents.

By contrast, a community with fewer adults, as low as one for every child, can also be described as being in a demographic “youth bulge.” Other studies have shown that in places like these, young people are more likely to get involved in violence or other negative peer influences.

One more thing: America’s Promise Alliance and the organization Community Commons created an interactive map you can use to look up the “adult capacity” in your own ZIP code, as well as the percentage of young people who are not in school.

To access the original article on nprEd, click here.


Posted on the Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring October 28, 2016;


It’s that time of year: 5 self-care tips for navigating holiday stress


Written by the American Psychological Association

With the holiday season getting underway and the decorations coming out, it is important to remember that the holidays have the potential to create additional challenges.

Families are cutting back, people are worrying about job security or unemployment, and seniors are concerned about their retirement. Such worries are stressful, and the American Psychological Association (APA)’s 2011 Stress in America survey found that 22 percent of Americans report an extreme level of stress.

If you are already experiencing stress in other areas of your life, you may be especially vulnerable to increased anxiety during the holidays. However, it is important to view the holidays as an opportunity to enhance your psychological well-being.

Remember, there are conscious steps you can take to prevent holiday stress and ensure a worry-free season.

APA offers these tips to help handle holiday stress

  • Take time for yourself — There may be pressure to be everything to everyone. Remember that you’re only one person and can only accomplish certain things. Sometimes self-care is the best thing you can do — others will benefit when you’re stress- free. Go for a long walk, get a massage or take time out to listen to your favorite music or read a new book. All of us need some time to recharge our batteries — by slowing down you will actually have more energy to accomplish your goals.


  • Volunteer — Many charitable organizations are also suffering due to the economic downturn. Find a local charity, such as a soup kitchen or a shelter where you and your family can volunteer. Also, participating in a giving tree or an adopt-a-family program, and helping those who are living in true poverty may help you put your own economic struggles in perspective.



  • Have realistic expectations — No Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza or other holiday celebration is perfect. View inevitable missteps as opportunities to demonstrate flexibility and resilience. A lopsided tree or a burned brisket won’t ruin your holiday; rather, it will create a family memory. If your children’s wish list is outside your budget, talk to them about the family’s finances this year and remind them that the holidays aren’t about expensive gifts.


  • Remember what’s important — The barrage of holiday advertising can make you forget what the holiday season is really about. When your holiday expense list is running longer than your monthly budget, scale back and remind yourself that what makes a great celebration is loved ones, not store-bought presents, elaborate decorations or gourmet food.



  • Seek support — Talk about your anxiety with your friends and family. Getting things out in the open can help you navigate your feelings and work toward a solution for your stress. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, consider seeing a professional such as a psychologist to help you manage your holiday stress.


Bottom Line for Mentors and Mentoring Programs

As the articles states, the holiday season is often one that is associated with increased levels of stress for many people. For mentors, who handle both the stress in their own lives while navigating potential issues and stress in the lives of their mentees, this stress can be doubly impactful.

For this reason, it is crucial that mentors make time to decompress and unwind when it’s necessary, because the stress that crops up in one aspect of a mentor’s life can negatively impact their relationships and interactions in other areas.

This can lead to a self-perpetuating cascade where negative experiences feed into each other. Short-circuiting that cascade before it has a chance to snowball can help ensure a more positive relationship with mentees and pay dividends in other aspects of a mentor’s life.


From the Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring; Posted By Justin Preston November 22, 2016

My mentee’s family has fallen on the wrong side of the “digital divide.’ What resources can I bring to the situation?


The Mentor’s Field Guild; Question 67

In low-income urban neighborhoods, 84% of children live in households that do not have access to the Internet. The problem is even worse in low-income rural areas.

This means that unless they can catch up, many children will be blocked from the enormous opportunities to work, learn, and play that are open to children who possess “21st-century literacy skills.”

Help your mentee assess where she stands with respect to Internet use and skill that should be the norm for children her age. Then work with her to build the skills she needs. One good resource is Common Sense Media. See especially Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America (2011, downloadable at

Whether you are mentoring in a program that takes place in a school or in the community, spend time learning about Internet access at your mentee’s school.

Also, look beyond internet access. While access is the first obstacle to overcome, training and parental involvement are also seen as important boosts to help kids make the most of any access they have.

We believe many mentors, especially those who are skilled in this area or want to learn about it along with their mentees, can also offer a boost. In fact, helping a child begin to get up to speed in this important area is an ideal role for modern mentors.

This is one barrier that need not be insurmountable for children living in disadvantaged circumstances. Seize the day.


Reprinted with permission from The Mentor’s Field guide: Answers You Need to Help Kids Succeed by Gail Manza and Susan K. Patrick; Questions about the Mentoring Relationship, Question 67. Reprinted with permission from Search Institute®, Copyright © 2012 Search Institute, Minneapolis, MN ; 877-240-7251, ext. 1; All rights reserved.

The Joy of Being Wrong

Written by Matthew Brensilver, PhD
October 25, 2016

In an important sense, the mindfulness path is very much about joy. I want to speak about an unusual, but potentially deep source of joy. It has been for me.

When we think about joy, we might think about beautiful sunsets, the loving gaze of a child, chocolate, the epic valleys of Yosemite, or the stillness of the mind. But I want to add one more potential source: the joy of being wrong.

Wait a second… being wrong doesn’t sound particularly appetizing!!! For sure, it’s an acquired taste. But when we let go of the need to be right, much ease and freedom opens to us. Of course, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t tryto get things right, but our deeply aversive response to being wrong has profound consequences.

The compulsion to be right constricts our lives and relationships. When everyone is walking around, assuming themselves to be right, problems are inevitable. The willingness and flexibility to be wrong is at the heart of mindfulness practice.

Wisdom can’t be fully imagined. Freedom can’t be fully imagined. Our confusion never registers as confusion, until, finally, perhaps, it does. From this perspective, mindfulness practice is a progressive letting go of misperception. But the insistence on being right creates a burden on our hearts and the urgency to prove others wrong is the source of incredible suffering in our world.

Here is Kathryn Schulz, who wrote a great book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.

“Why is it so fun to be right? As pleasures go, it is, after all, a second-order one at best. Unlike many of life’s other delights – chocolate, surfing, kissing – it does not enjoy any mainline access to our biochemistry. And yet, the thrill of being right is undeniable, universal, and almost entirely undiscriminating.

We can’t enjoy kissing just anyone, but we can relish being right about almost anything. Our indiscriminate enjoyment of being right is matched by an almost equally indiscriminate feeling that we are right…. Most of us go through life assuming that we are basically right, basically all the time, about basically everything. As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it, our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient.

If we relish being right and regard it as our natural state, you can guess how we feel about being wrong. For one thing, we tend to view it as rare and bizarre. For another, it leaves us feeling idiotic and ashamed. Of all the things we are wrong about, this idea of error might well top the list. It is our meta-mistake: we are wrong about what it means to be wrong.

Far from being a sign of intellectual inferiority, the capacity to err is crucial to human cognition. Far from being a moral flaw, it is inextricable from some of our most humane and honorable qualities: empathy, optimism, imagination, and courage.

And far from being a mark of indifference or intolerance, wrongness is a vital part of how we learn and change. Thanks to error, we can revise our understanding of ourselves and amend our ideas about the world. However disorienting, difficult, or humbling our mistakes might be, it is ultimately wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are.”

I love that quote. Maybe it provides a taste of the joy of being wrong. As we develop more equanimity with being wrong, we cast aside the drama of rightness and wrongness, and rest more deeply in what’s actually here, now: this present moment.

May we all delight in learning, growth, the cultivation of wisdom – and the willingness to be wrong entailed by it all.


Founded in 2007, Mindful Schools trains educators to integrate mindfulness into their work with children. Educators trained by Mindful Schools have impacted over 750,000 students worldwide. You can learn more about their online course offerings, Mindfulness Fundamentals and Mindful Educator Essentials at



Connected Learning: Inspiring Mentors and Peers



This film examines the true impact of mentorship and its ability to validate others in an era when all of us can connect and play a part in the life and education of one another.

Guided by six learning principles and three core values, connected learning is the outcome of a six-year research effort supported by the MacArthur Foundation into how learning, education, and schooling could be reimagined for a networked world.

The film asks:
– ‘Might we all have the opportunity to mentor another?’
– ‘How powerful is a single moment of validation to a young imagination?’
– ‘Might your influence travel further than you might imagine?’
– ‘Teacher or not, might you have a part to play in the education of another?’

The interview subject is Brother Mike, YouMedia Coordinator and Lead Mentor for the Digital Youth Network (, which is supported by the MacArthur Foundation as part of its Digital Media and Learning initiative (