Question: “I had a conversation with my student recently about the holidays. She wanted to know all about my traditions and I told her about having my son and daughter-in-law and their new baby coming to visit for the first time, and how we like to stay at home and just be with family. I think my student felt a little bad afterwards thinking about her own situation. Now I’m concerned about what I should say/not say in the future and I was wondering if anyone had guidance about how to avoid these topics if your student asks.”
Thanks for sending in this question; it can be difficult to negotiate the tutor/mentor relationship around topics of home and personal life during the holidays. I think many tutors have been in a similar situation at some point, so don’t feel too badly about it. If your student asks a question like this, you don’t want to dismiss them or not answer, and it can be easy to overshare and not think about the context of their lives. Now that you’ve had this experience, I’m sure you will be more prepared in the future.
Some general rules: keep any comments brief and nonspecific. Avoid potentially triggering references regarding homes and family members. Keep in mind the context of your student’s living arrangements–i.e., are they with one or both parents? Are they in a group home with little contact with their families? Is one of their parents incarcerated? Are they living in a domestic violence shelter? Do they have any siblings who are incarcerated or living in foster care? All of these situations call for particular types of discretion.
However, you can still celebrate the season by discussing relatively neutral topics like your favorite holiday treats, songs and films. Last, let your student lead. Let them bring up the topics they are comfortable with, and never ask them how they plan to spend their holidays unless they share first. Remember, simply listening can be wonderfully supportive without the risk of bringing up a tender subject.
Amanda Carr joined School on Wheels in early 2015. As engagement specialist at School on Wheels, she is dedicated to providing volunteers with resources to help them succeed.
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