November 17, 2021

The Power of Positive Relationships

By Lacey Cole-Rae | 

When I was eight, my parents divorced. It was a stressful time in my young life--moving out of our home and into an apartment with my mom—and then shuttling between there and my dad’s house. In the years following the divorce, there was a lot of upheaval and transition. My younger sisters and I adapted. We got new stepparents, a new baby sister, and moved several times as our parents got settled into their new lives.

The one constant during this time was school. School was a safe place where I could be myself without worrying about what was going on at home. School was also a place where I knew there were people who cared about me. People who were dependable, consistent, and encouraging.

When I brought a homemade farm to school as part of a social studies project, and when that farm began stinking up the classroom a few days later, I was horrified. But my 5th grade teacher was unfazed. He handed me a large can of Lysol and instructed me to spray down my farm in the morning, at lunch, and when the bell rang at 3:00 pm. He patted my shoulder and said, “The odor does not detract from the magnificence of your farm, Lacey. It adds to it!” In that moment, Mr. Polsen made me feel cared for and accepted.

Developmental Relationships

The Search Institute is a non-profit whose mission is to “promote positive youth development and advance equity through research and practical solutions.”  Their work on developmental relationships is especially interesting and useful. In my work for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah—and as a parent to my own kids—knowing how to build developmental relationships with young people is critical.

The Search Institute defines developmental relationships as “close connections that help young people discover who they are, cultivate abilities to shape their own lives, and learn how to engage with and contribute to the world around them,” (2018, Search Institute, Minneapolis, MN).

The developmental framework centers on five areas:

1.       Express Care- Show me that I matter to you

2.       Challenge Growth-Push me to keep getting better

3.       Provide Support- Help me complete tasks and achieve goals

4.       Share Power- Treat me with respect and give me a say

5.       Expand Possibilities- Connect me with people and places that broaden my world

In helping me out with my stinky farm, Mr. Polsen showed me he cared about me, and he provided support. All these years later, I remember him and the many other mentors I’ve had in my life. Who has been a mentor to you? How do you mentor the children you work with?

mentor2.0.pngMentoring Matters

Adults working with kids have so many opportunities to mentor. Sometimes it’s as easy as giving compassion and a little encouragement to a child going through a rough period at home, whose project didn’t turn out so well. Other times it can be as serious as intervening when a child is in danger. Most often, it’s somewhere in the middle. Adults working with kids can provide encouragement, set boundaries, advocate on their behalf when needed, and even inspire them to see new possibilities for their future.

Another way to impact the life of child in a positive way is to become a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah. Through healthy and positive developmental relationships, kids can thrive. Learn more about mentoring in Utah and why it matters at

Lacey Cole-Rae is the Summit/Wasatch counties manager for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah.