Teaching kids the value of hard work

Laura K. Silver

By Laura K. Silver

When our kids are young, we tell them they can be whatever they want to be. I often wonder if this bit of encouragement is actually setting them up for failure down the road.

Today I sat in on my son’s piano lesson. My son is naturally talented at the piano and good for his age. His teacher, who recognizes his gift, asked him how long he has been practicing each day. He told her 30 or 40 minutes.

By most standards, this is pretty good for an eight year old. She, on the other hand, has high expectations. “One hour minimum,” she informed him in her thick accent. “Thirty minutes is not enough. ”

Let’s be clear — in order to be truly great, he’d have to spend approximately 10,000 hours practicing this skill (Just read the book, “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell and you’ll see what I mean). To translate, this means that to be the very best, he’d have to spend approximately three hours a day, every day, practicing for the next 10 years. I’m not advocating that.


The discipline he is getting from his piano teacher, however, will serve him well in life, and the lesson he is getting there is even more important than his music. He will know that talent alone is not enough and that there is no substitute for hard work. I never tell my son that he can be a professional musician. Instead, I explain what it takes to become one, and the commitment that is required to become truly great at anything.

We’ve all seen the people from childhood — the very smart, talented ones — who didn’t live up to what we viewed as their potential. We’ve also seen the people who amounted to quite a lot, despite not being the sharpest tack in the box. The latter clearly had to work much harder to get where they are.  

Perhaps we should be telling our kids that instead.