Youth development: Perseverance takes practice, models


Perseverance — now that is an excellent vocabulary word. The definition is summarized as the ability to continue doing something or trying to do something even though it is difficult.

4-H advisers and volunteers who work with dairy projects (or any animal project) should be keenly aware of the definition and how to practice and teach perseverance.

Consider football example

Perhaps the 2014 OSU football team is the greatest example of how to persevere. After all, it was a subject near and dear to loyal fans and it played out before us time and time again. Even now, the series of events leading to the championship game seems more like a chapter out of Cinderella. The team’s ability to persevere and create success out of challenges was the ultimate learning experience of how to make the “shoe fit” in this unbelievable tale.

Nurturing life skills

Dairy projects provide plenty of experiences to cultivate the “setbacks won’t stop me” mindset. Even Cloverbuds are becoming aware of their strengths and weaknesses. As a matter of fact, it probably starts with the lesson on how to tie our shoes. Developing true grit becomes more about identifying the area where members might not be as strong and then focusing on what they want and need to achieve.

Even A.B. Graham could foresee the value of perseverance when he created the motto “to make the best better.” It was positive and hinted at the promise of excellence beyond the norm. As volunteers prepare for the 2015 4-H year, it seems like the ideal time to provide tips on how to nurture this life skill in ourselves and those we guide.

1. Build on strengths

Some kids are just born with more of a “stick with it” ability than others. I feel it really pays huge dividends when we are mindful of each youth’s disposition.

Dairy projects can and do provide plenty of achievements to aim for, but we can do much to help them persevere by analyzing personal interests to pursue. For example, direct members to activities and projects where they are naturally inclined. In essence, you are focusing on what they can do, instead what they cannot do.

Some members may like to feed calves and others may like to milk. We steer them to what they like and the benefit is they are more likely to practice and see the results of their efforts. Once they learn how to navigate/persevere, the skill is in place. Learning the how, what, why, and when steps is much like viewing a puzzle scene on the box and then opening to explore how the pieces fit together. Managing how it fits together is inspiration and time should be given to acknowledge the effort.

Please note that I did not suggest you applaud, jump up and down or shower with praise — overdoing this step might not bring about the best result. Older kids will turn you off like a faucet and younger ones may grow to expect this. Just be sincere and provide comments that lead in the direction of the next step.

2. Talk through the feelings/emotions

In the midst of challenges, it is easy to give into our feelings. In these situations, shift the focus. For example, if a member has a heifer that is stubborn and resisting being led, ask them what would (???) do in this situation. You could use a role model from your club, another volunteer, or yourself. Just interject someone the member can positively identify with. This separates the member from emotion and leads to authentic problem solving.

We all have heard those classic words of discouragement when someone says “I’m no good at this, I’m stupid, I can’t do it.” When it happens, respond with an example of some other success at perseverance and this can provide them with more of a blueprint of how to get through this rough patch. Remind them of a time when they did not understand how to put a halter on or even which side to lead on. This should prove they can overcome and the steps that brought them to the situation at hand.

3. Provide examples of how others have persevered

We are fostered by the examples in movies and books. This is inspiration that cannot be forgotten. It just requires you to have a repertoire of examples that fit this generation. About three minutes on Google should bring you classic examples and some personal enlightenment as well. Seriously, it still works for me even after the multiple times I have watched Frozen. I love watching how Elsa “let’s it go” and Olaf even imagines himself in summer. (However, I do not buy into the notion that “the cold never bothered me anyway.”)

Walk the talk

The bottom line is that we all need to practice perseverance. As adults, we should provide the example for those who look up to us to provide answers and solutions. Older members and junior leaders need to persevere for the younger ones who revere them.

Cows can even model behavior. On our farm this winter, we have watched a cow persevere in her recovery after a serious accident. She simply will not give up or give in. All of us around her are inspired. Even winter has been a lesson in perseverance and the exception to this article is that Mother Nature need not be so persevering with cold, snow, and ice.


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Bonnie Ayars is a dairy program specialist at Ohio State University, coordinating all state 4-H dairy programs and coaching the OSU collegiate and 4-H dairy judging teams. She and her husband also own and operate a Brown Swiss and Guernsey cattle farm. In 1994, Bonnie was named Woman of the Year at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis.



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