Lesson #5: Whenever 'hard work' is involved, the child can probably handle it. And most goals worth achieving are going to involve at least a little hard work.
Probably among the deepest core values that I learned from my parents is that 'hard work' is nothing to be afraid of. In many ways that attitude served me well. I worked hard at school to get good marks, I had a job beginning at age 13 (and I haven't been unemployed once in the last 12 years), and I paid for 4 years of university by myself, without any gifts or loans. As a teacher I always performed at a high level in my jobs, and often took on additional responsibilities. And in my life with my kids I have no problem doing the work necessary to give us a comfortable life: cooking, cleaning, laundry, going here and there, making a garden, etc, etc.
My newest goal, to live a greener lifestyle by moving downtown and giving up our car, is definitely going to involve a lot of hard work. First we have to do a few repairs on our house to make it ready to rent out. Then we have to edit, sort and pack (or sell!) everything we own. While doing that, we have to find a suitable renter AND find a place to move to. Then once we've moved we have to unpack and organize and begin the work of discovering our new community and living the new lifestyle. It's work, but we're tough, and achieving the goal is worth the effort.
There's a bit of irony in the way the school system seems to value students who work hard to achieve good marks, yet the same system is committed to making the work accessible to all kids. Teachers call this process 'dumbing it down.' Essentially, it means that even though the curriculum documents are written with a specific list of outcomes and expectations, the teachers are expected (instructed!) to modify the content so that all the children can successfully complete the work. In fact, students in Special Education Programs are taught from a curriculum specifically created so that each child can achieve a mark of 'B' or 'B+'.
So I'm not going to go into a long explanation of all the reasons why schools are sending out mixed messages to kids about the meaning of hard work and how this is not good for kids. What I am going to point out is that whatever goals I set for myself (such as living a greener lifestyle) I have to be willing to do the work to achieve the goal. And whatever goals my children have, I have to be willing to do the hard work to assist them. (Actually, when I first decided to try to live a greener lifestyle, my goal was to stay living in our little bungalow, give up our car, be vegetarian, and turn my front lawn into a vegetable garden. This plan was completely derailed when it became apparent that nothing will grow in our front lawn due to the presence of two enormous Manitoba Maples. So sometimes revising the plan is part of the hard work.)
I actually think it's only adults who define work as hard, since children are more likely to persist at an activity or goal that is really meaningful to them. Children can have some pretty interesting goals. For example, Anna has recently started to express interest in learning to play some instruments, specifically the flute and the piano. I have learned the basics of playing each of those instruments and I am fairly good at reading music, but the first step in helping her achieve this goal is to acquire both a flute and a piano. Fortunately, a good keyboard can likely be purchased second-hand, and what she calls 'a flute' is actually an inexpensive plastic recorder. So once she has access to these instruments I will let her explore their various sounds and wait for her to express an interest in learning more. If she wants a music teacher, I will find one. If she wants to attend a recital, we will. If she wants to go to a music class, I'll make it happen. So the work of facilitating her goal is mine, while the work of actually learning to make music on a flute or piano is hers. I think this is fair for a 4 year old.
If I act like helping her with her goal is too much work for me then I am sending her the message that goals which require hard work are not achievable. I would also be sending her the message that she is not important enough for me to help. Obviously I would not want to send either of those messages. And if she discovers that the flute and the piano are not to be her passions, that will be fine too. No sense in carrying on with the hard work of achieving a goal that no longer exists.
What I really hope is that the tenacity and resilience that my children (all children, perhaps?) seem to naturally possess will not be undermined by exposing them to only simple, very achievable goals, such as they would experience at school. By letting them set their own goals while still young and then giving them the tools to pursue their goals, I hope their tenacity and resilience will remain intact throughout their lives. And I think they will discover that factoring in the hard work is part of setting the goal in the first place.