Is your child “lazy?”

Throughout my years of teaching,  I have often heard parents comment that their child was lazy.  (Surprisingly, I have heard some teachers make this comments about students as well.) On a superficial level, it does make sense.  When an individual doesn’t seem to put effort into what they do, it is in our automatic nature to assume that individual is just lazy.  Johnny isn’t doing his homework - lazy. Suzy isn’t participating in class at all - lazy. Cathy does the bare minimum on her assignments - lazy. Etc., etc., etc.

Have you ever stopped to think about WHY that child is being lazy though?  Studies have found that when capable of and when given the opportunity to be successful, all children will be.  It’s human nature to take pride in doing well and to want to succeed. So why are there children who behave this way?  There is always a reason; the trick is figuring out what it is and addressing it.

In my experience laziness is often caused by either fear, lack of underlying skills or information, or by a biological imbalance.  Johnny may not be doing his homework because he either doesn’t understand or remember what to do and needs support. Or maybe he does know, but isn’t confident in his ability to do so and is scared to fail.  Maybe Suzy is struggling to keep up with the pace of the class and is too shy or self-conscious to ask questions. Cathy may not have the skills to expand on her assignments or maybe the work she does put forth already takes a significant amount of effort for her.  Reduced output (both academic and social) can also be a result of anxiety, ADHD (caused by an imbalance of dopamine or norepinephrine in the brain), an undiagnosed illness, or something as simple as hunger or a preoccupation with an upsetting social experience.

When we refer to children as “lazy,” it can also subconsciously affect the way we treat them. So, even if we never tell Johnny to his face that we think he’s lazy, it will come across in our expectations of him, our attitude towards him and, indirectly in some of the comments we  make. It’s said that every joke has a shred of truth in it. This is because you cannot turn off your brain. Those thoughts are there and they underlie our conscious thought and can tinge the comments that come out of our mouths if we’re not incredibly careful. (And let’s be honest, how many of us stop to thoroughly think about every word that comes out of our mouths?).

So, the next time you think a child is being lazy, make a point to focus on the positive efforts he/she is making and try to find the underlying reason why that child is not meeting your expectations. Work with him/her to help them figure out what they need to be successful.  At first, this might take effort, but eventually, you may find that your mindset can shift to naturally view that child (and others, in general) in a more positive light.