I recently had a conversation with a mom who was discussing how anxious she was feeling about her struggling second grader. She sighed and said, “The problem with my child is that he is lazy.”
I passionately responded with, “NO, NO, NO!” That is not necessarily the truth!!!
Let’s look at this a little more so that we can see what could really be happening:
Most of us adults enjoy doing the things that come naturally and easily for us. We tend to put off doing the things that we do not enjoy or do not come that easily, I know that for me, I put off organizing my closets or my file drawers because for the most part I don’t enjoy doing it and organizing stuff is not my expertise. I have a friend who just loves organizing. Her desk is so organized that her pens and pencils sit in containers organized by size and color!!! I’m lucky if I can find a pen when I need to write something down quickly!!! I would not want to hear that she is “good” and I am “lazy.” Let’s not label our children.
I have a woman who cleans my house and sings as she is scrubbing the bathtub. She enjoys her work and takes great pride in the way the house sparkles and shines when she is done. She has told me that she hates cooking. One day she talked to me about her 8 year old son and how he is struggling with reading, she confided that she thinks his problem is that he is lazy, “Let’s not judge him so fast,” I said! And I asked her, “Are YOU lazy because you don’t like to cook?” She smiled at me coyly and I went on to say, “I see how hard you work when you clean. You are always on time and you put in a great deal of energy and effort to do an excellent job. I would never think about you as being lazy. You just don’t enjoy cooking. Most of us don’t want to do the things we don’t enjoy. And if we’re not good at something and if it doesn’t come easily to us, we usually don’t enjoy it. That doesn’t make us lazy.”
I believe that many parents mislabel their children as lazy when they don’t want to clean their room, do their homework, help with chores, etc. I am here to tell you that I believe something else is happening and it is the wise parent who does some detective work to figure out the real issue.
Here are some root causes of children appearing to be lazy:
The task is too difficult for them: An example of this is when parents tell their young child to clean his/her room. The parent has an expectation of what a clean room looks like and the child’s idea of clean is nowhere near the parent’s perspective. A clean room to a child of 3 or 4 or even 5 (everything depends on the child’s development and how he/she perceives the world and what their honest capabilities are) might be to throw a few toys under the bed and say, “I cleaned my room.” The parent walks in and is aghast to find that it still looks like a tornado went through it. “You didn’t clean your room. Stop being so lazy and get it cleaned up!” I am here to tell you that your child may not have the ability to understand what that means or may not have the organizational skills to make it happen. The feeling of being overwhelmed or sense of disorganization could be so great that he/she doesn’t know where to begin. (I’d like to lovingly add this piece of perspective: Sometimes my husband volunteers to clean the kitchen after dinner. His well-meaning offer does not mean that it will be cleaned to my standards of clean. Usually after he ‘cleans’ the kitchen I spend another 10 minutes or so ‘cleaning up’ so that it meets my personal standards… After almost 40 years of marriage I have come to understand that I am more at peace with life when I stop pointing out what has not been done ‘right’ and relax into an attitude of appreciation and gratitude for what is. This deliberate focusing on the positive works miracles in relationships- for couples and well as for parents!)
Try a few words of appreciation and understanding, such as,
“It looks like you might need some help with this. How about we do it together? I can scoop up all of the crayons and put them away. What can you scoop up?“ or “Let’s see how fast we can get all these blocks back on the shelf. Start counting!” Children love to play games, have races and in general, feel like a task is fun. There is nothing wrong with that. I know many adults who are trying to make their lives more fun. Stop being so serious and lighten up a bit.
The child is craving the attention of the parent: Many parents are so stressed and busy by the demands of modern life that they just want their kids to ‘get the stuff done!’ We want them to be responsible, to do their chores, to eat dinner, take a bath, brush their teeth and get ready for bed. Sometimes children will appear to be helpless or ‘lazy’ so their mom or dad will ‘help’ them with their chores. I was working with the mother of a 7-year-old child and this mom was so frustrated because her work took her away from home several days a month. The dad proudly told me that when he was in charge the little girl would do her first grade homework all by herself and she did it quickly and easily. When mom was home the very same child would whine and complain that the homework was too hard and that she needed mom to help her. Did the difficulty of the work change when mom was home? No way. This little girl wanted and needed her mom to be with her so much that on an unconscious level she allowed herself to be less competent so that mom would be forced to help her. Once mom understood the dynamics of what was really going on she suggested that her daughter do her homework in the kitchen while mom prepared dinner. This way they would be near each other and able to talk while working on their individual tasks. Mom could always lean over to answer a question when necessary. Mom put on soft music in the background and occasionally walked over to softly touch, smile, and kiss her daughter as she attended to her homework. What a huge difference this made in this mommy-daughter relationship!!
The child does not ‘buy in’ to the work assigned: The child feels like the responsibility has been ‘forced’ on him and he feels no sense of obligation or desire to get it done. Imagine how you would feel, as an adult, if your boss told you that your job now included emptying the trash baskets in the office at the end of the day. In order to save money your company decided to ‘let go’ of the cleaning staff and each member of the team was being assigned a cleaning duty at the day’s end. If your boss told you, “Every day just stop what you are doing 15 minutes early and go around to everyone’s desk and empty the trash. We will save thousands of dollars each year this way.” Would you smile and say, “Of course, no problem.” Or would you resent it! We treat children this way when we arbitrarily make up the rules and responsibilities in the home, fooling ourselves into thinking it is teaching them how to be good members of society! Ask yourself how you would want your boss to approach you with the challenge of getting the trash baskets cleaned at the end of the day. Every human being needs to feel a sense of empowerment. We all want to be part of decision making
Include your children in the problem solving experience of how your family will get chores accomplished. Encourage them to be responsible for the chores they believe they will succeed in getting done. If they are struggling with school assignments speak to the teacher about creating a ‘success’ plan and work together to encourage your child to feel good about his progress. Here is a personal story: I got a new Apple computer last January. My grown children gave it to me as a gift and told me I would love it! I hated it!! I felt such frustration each time I sat down to begin a task. I had nightmares about my incompetence with this fabulous piece of technology. My daughter lost her patience after trying to teach me how to maneuver different systems over and over again. I felt ‘stupid’ as I asked the same questions over and over again. I wished I had my old computer back and felt angry and frustrated that my children insisted it was time for me to move up to the new technology!! I didn’t ‘buy in’ to it and lost my sense of self-empowerment. It took me two months of conscious awareness and positive self talk before I realized I had choices. I made the choice of taking private lessons at the local Apple store. No one could have made that decision for me. I had to be ready. I had to want it. I had to choose it for myself. Let your children made choices. Empower them. Relax and trust that they will ‘get it’ as soon as they become ready.
Be their cheerleader and love them unconditionally as they navigate this journey.