How to tell if your kid is being lazy and how to help them overcome it.
We cannot see inside our child’s mind. What seems simple and easy to us, as adults, could be taking a great deal of cognitive effort for them. This does not mean there is anything wrong with their brain. It just means that they are still learning to learn.
To know if our child is being lazy with schoolwork is not easy, because we can’t see how hard their brain is working.
However, we can see if they are lazy. If laziness is a habit in their life, then it is likely that habit is also affecting their schoolwork.
We can see if our kid is lazy by observing how well they complete physical tasks. Most kids have chores. Do they complete their chores well? If you ask them to wipe the table do they do a good job? Or do they just wipe one corner?
What do they do in their free time? Do they choose to do activities that require an effort of some kind? It could be a physical effort, but it could also be cognitive.
Sometimes we think if our kids choose to play video games in their free time that is being lazy. But not all video games are created equally, some require problem-solving and creativity while others can be quite mind-numbing. So don’t judge them off the activity they choose.
Just observe them. A kid who only wants to watch TV may indeed be lazy and TV is a very passive activity. But even TV can end up being active if the kids are sitting there picking apart the weaknesses in the plotline and making fun of shoddy animation.
It’s not about what they are doing. It is about whether or not they are putting effort into what they are doing.
Once you have evaluated their free time activities and their chores you will have a much more accurate idea of whether or not your child is lazy. If they are being lazy, that habit it most likely also affecting their school work.
If they are not lazy in other areas, then they are probably genuinely struggling with their schoolwork. Not being lazy.
You Can’t Force Your Child to Think
However, the cure for academic laziness is seldom to shove extra work at your child. What you want is for your child to put in the effort to complete the work already assigned to them to the best of their ability. You want them to do the hard work of thinking.
But you cannot just say, “You are being lazy with your school work and I demand you stop and put in more effort and care.” If your child is not being lazy or does not have a deep understanding of what that means, such a comment will make them feel like an idiot. It will shame them. This is not a path to solving the problem of academic laziness, even if you are right that they are being lazy.
It is not okay to shame a child for getting problems wrong. It is okay to ask them to correct work that was completed incorrectly and this will help with the laziness problem because they will eventually realize it is faster to answer the problems correctly the first time. That is not the same as scolding them for getting the wrong answer or accusing them of laziness because they got the wrong answer.
(I understand, you may be 100% sure they are being lazy, but that is beside the point.)
They can only decide to answer the questions correctly if they actually know how to get to the correct answers and if the cognitive load, both of each problem, and of the number of problems being demanded is not too great.
In other words, sometimes the schoolwork a child is being given justs sets them up for failure.
Since we cannot know how hard their brain is working it is better to focus on laziness in a different life area.
The price of accusing and shaming them for laziness is too high. The chance that they will decide they are dumb as a consequence of your accusation is not worth taking.
What You Can Do
You can say to your child, wipe this table, and you can make them keep wiping/redoing the task until it is done well.
Now, I am not saying this is a magic solution. It will take time and perseverance. More from you than the child. It may take a few weeks, but then again, it may take a few years. You have to be consistent in sending them back to do jobs correctly over and over again for as long as it takes. It is your turn, as the parent, to work hard. Because you know you could wipe the table clean in 30 seconds and it may take 30 minutes for you to make sure the child has actually wiped it clean.
It can seem like a futile and inefficient exercise. You will not only feel like you have more important things to do but you will probably also feel like your child has more important things to do. These are normal feelings but they do not mean that you should give up.
Shouldn’t you just wipe the table and make them work on their long division?
Working Hard is Transferable.
What you are doing is curing laziness with hard work. Because working hard is the opposite of being lazy, it is the antidote. It is the only way to help your child decide, on their own, that they are going to work harder on that long division.
Once a child learns the art of working hard and they get used to it, (in other words, it becomes a habit,) working hard will become a part of who they are.
They will put effort into everything they do because they know how to work hard.
And because they have learned, from their sweat, that putting in concentrated effort often ends a task more quickly, freeing them to pursue whatever fun they have planned.
They will work harder at fun too. They will choose to play more challenging games or spend the cognitive effort needed to design their own elaborate games.
They will start learning things on their own in their free time because effort no longer seems like a big deal.
They will start putting effort into their schoolwork because they know it will make them faster and better. They know this because they remember when it took them 30 minutes to wipe the table and now it only takes 3 minutes. They would like the homework to be that much faster.
Chores can help all children whether academically gifted or not, to learn the growth mindset. To experience it with their own bodies. You don’t need to explain it to them, it will become engrained in their minds because their body learned it. The neural pathways have been forged into their brain by the effort their body has put into the physical work of chores. Their brain knows the chore got easier as they practiced and put in the effort, it got faster as they decided to care.
They know that when they rushed through wiping the table it always took longer in the end because they had to go back and fix it. They learned to pay attention to what they were doing, which is a necessary part of working hard. This also transfers to schoolwork. They will take the time needed to get it right the first time because they don’t want to have to go back and fix everything, they know rushing through just makes it take longer.
But they need to learn these things in the physical world. Because we are physical creatures. Their brain will make the connection to the academic world, but it is very hard to learn these lessons within the academic world.
Because academics are abstract and chores are concrete.
This is one of the many reasons that I believe parents who refuse to give their child any chores are doing them a great disservice.
Yes, learning is your child’s job right now.
But learning is not something that can be separated from life.
Learning is not just about academics and when we think it is we shrink our child’s world.
Life skills are an integral part of any complete learning program. Not just because they will need those skills but also because life skills teach our kids things that academics cannot.
They don’t just teach skills. They teach life.
Your child will not reach their full academic potential if you don’t teach them how to work hard. Nor will they achieve it if you shame them for not working as hard as they can. They will achieve their academic potential when you patiently take the time to teach them the skill of working hard and are constantly on their side with academic struggles.
Instead of shaming them for getting a lower grade than you think they are capable of, you acknowledge that what they are learning is hard, but that with their hard work and practice it will get easier. You make sure they don’t think something is wrong with them just because they have to work hard. You show them working hard is just a part of life.
Don’t make schoolwork a war zone between you and your child.
When they are older, as they discover what truly interests them they will also apply this skill of hard work to their passion. And they will grow faster in the skills and knowledge needed for their passion because that is just a part of who they are. They will shoot past peers quickly, because, let’s be honest, most kids are not being taught how to work hard.
It won’t matter how smart they were in 5th grade. Or if they got an A or D in spelling. What will matter is whether or not they learned how to work hard.
That clean table is not about the efficiency of this moment.
You are sacrificing the efficiency of cleaning the kitchen today for the future efficiency of your child’s entire life.