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Hard Work – Part 3: How can we cultivate diligence, grit, and helpfulness in our children?

Hard Work - Part 3: How can we cultivate diligence, grit, and helpfulness in our children? | Starr-Eyed Pragmatist

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In Part 1 of this series we looked at consequences of coercion and the benefits of autonomy. In Part 2 we thought through whether or not hard work is a natural human quality. In Part 3 we get to the the practical question:

“I have to get stuff done, am I just supposed to wait around and hope that people will help me?! So far that’s never happened!”

Much like the deschooling process, which I like to think of as healing from the schooling mindset, I also think there is a similar healing process from a more general, coercive mindset. We have to start with ourselves.

  • We have to own our choices and realize that nobody is making us do a thing. For example, I am choosing to wash the dishes, because I like having clean dishes and I want to help my family have clean dishes. I don’t have to do this. I am choosing to do this.
  • We have to start choosing unconditional helpfulness to model what that looks like for others in our family.  Sue Elvis of Stories of an Unschooling Family has some wonderfully provoking and helpful things to say about this here and here.  She has the theory that “helpfulness begets helpfulness” and I think she’s right.

What I mean by “unconditional helpfulness” is not that you should be a doormat to everyone else’s wishes, but rather choosing helpfulness to simply be helpful and not as a reward (or punishment, if withheld) to another’s behavior. Your helpfulness should not be conditional, as if others are only entitled to your help if they have earned it. If helpfulness is conditional, it becomes an exchange currency in a reward economy, which, as we talked about in Part 2, cultivates an entitlement mentality. When helpfulness is conditional it is not a freely given act of compassion. Strive to model from yourself the amount of helpfulness you want to see in your children and give your children the same permission you (should) give yourself to say “no” when you want or need to say “no” to a request. I think Brené Brown, author of “Rising Strong,” does a great job of unpacking the relationship between boundary setting and freely giving.

“Generosity can’t exist
without setting boundaries.”
– Brené Brown

Our own personal mindset and behaviors has a huge impact on how our children grow to perceive hard work.

Another aspect of cultivating an appreciation for hard work is allowing your child to dive deep into something they love. Allow them to pursue that intrinsic, natural drive to grow and learn. In doing so they are bound to come across something difficult. Even if it is reaching that next level on a video game, the feeling of accomplishment, knowing what it is like to persevere and overcome an obstacle is the same.  Many people call this “grit.” Amy Milstein of Unschooling NYC examines this idea in her piece “True grit & how to discover it, build it, keep it (hint: do something you love).” Knowing you can overcome small things gives you the confidence to believe and try again to overcome larger things.

Next in Part 4, we will examine what impact the amount of stuff we own and are responsible for taking care of has to do with our perceptions and our children’s perceptions of hard work.