Motivating Lazy Children

Is your child lazy or overwhelmed?  We have learned, over time, that when parents tell us their kids are “lazy” or “unmotivated,” it is important to look at what is causing the problem.  Kids just don’t get “lazy”– most of us like to learn and want to be successful.  As we listen,  we usually find that somewhere in the history, either there is a learning difference, like slow processing, or difficulty reading, or poor executive functioning skills, and/or a teacher who has “bullied” the student.  For whatever reason, the student has decided that it is easier to say “I don’t care.” or “I’m bored.” as this is a protective stance to deflect attention away from the issue.  The newsletter below explains that often students that are emotionally overwhelmed are labeled as lazy as well.


Q: How does being extremely selfish fit into   the trauma issue? Last Sunday evening, it became very obvious that my teenage   daughter was not going to lift a finger to help with our Sunday family dinner   when our other children and extended family were all helping out. She said   she was tired.A: It fits in perfectly. When children are in survival mode or simply   overwhelmed, they feel as if they have to protect
themselves and create safety for themselves. It is all   about self-protection. They seek peace and peace comes from shutting down   from the world. It is actually a brilliant strategy: shut down the world and   you reduce the stress in your life, you deactivate the stimulus of the   environment, and your nervous system has a chance to calm down. Unfortunately   for those around a child in this type of self-protection mode, this brilliant   strategy makes the child look rude, selfish, and lazy.In order to stay in a place of love, understanding, and tolerance as a parent   for this type of behavior in your child (especially around extended family   members), you have to ask yourself, “What is driving my child’s   behavior?” Too often, we approach our children asking the wrong question   of “How do I get my child to change her behavior?”. If you ask the   wrong question, you’ll get the wrong answer. In this specific situation, if you   only focus on the behavior alone, it will look as if your daughter is being   lazy and selfish.By pushing her to change her behavior, you will come off to her as nagging   and lecturing. This will only serve to increase her stress, thus pushing her   further into her shut-down state. Ironically, you will actually   create the exact result which you were trying to avoid.Instead, work on the core issue: OVERWHELM. Moving a child out of a state of   overwhelm happens within the context of the relationship. Focus on the   relationship.Also recognize that family get-togethers, while fun, are stressful. Friends,   family, and more social interaction can overwhelm a child who struggles with   relationships. While I’m an advocate for families, too much family   outside of the nucleus family structure can be too much for many children.   Their nervous systems are not equipped to handle the increase in noise,   interactions, and stress of being expected to “behave.”

To solve this issue, do proactive work and develop a plan with your daughter.   This is a child who needs you to join her and to assist her in order to keep   her from automatically going into overwhelm. Shutting down is an automatic   response; she doesn’t have control over it. It doesn’t happen at a conscious   level. Helping her to create an awareness around this reaction, as well as a   plan of how to deal with it in the future, is your responsibility as a parent   of a child of trauma.

When life gets busy, loud, and unpredictable, tell her you’ve noticed she   doesn’t seem to be as happy. Invite her to reflect about how she felt during   last Sunday night’s dinner and let her express herself honestly and openly.   Beware, though, she may blame you for having too many people over (for   example, “Why did you invite them, anyway, you know I don’t like   them!” or “Sunday night dinner is stupid anyway; I’d rather be in   my room or be with my friends.”). You don’t have to defend your   decisions or try to convince her why Sunday night dinner is important.

Explore the real issue: it’s too much for her and it is threatening. Say   something like, “Sunday dinner isn’t your favorite so maybe we can   figure out a plan to help make it better. If it gets to be too much, at any   time, how about you go for a walk and if you want me to go with you, I’d love   to – just the two of us.”

You can also set the expectation that you need her to help out, but offer to   help her. “I know it can feel like it’s too much energy to help with the   dinner or with clean-up, but what if you and I worked together? You don’t   have to be alone and overwhelmed anymore. I want to be here to support you   and help keep your body from shutting down. Can you let me help you?”

“Beyond Consequences” doesn’t mean a child can do anything she   wants to. Children need boundaries; boundaries create emotional   safety. Children need us to set the bar of what is expected, as   well. However, due to the sensitivity of our children, it has to be done with   love, kindness, and compassion.

Think about it as merging the strengths of Mr. Rogers (gentleness,   compassion, understanding) with those of General Patton (strong, courageous,   determined).

 Rogers and Patton
Perhaps you’re reading these suggestions and thinking, “That would be   fine if she were five, but she’s fifteen! Mr. Rogers is for little kids; when   is it her turn to grow up and take responsibility?”Your daughter has already proven that she can’t get out of overwhelm and she   isn’t able to take responsibility yet, at least on her own. Expecting her to   simply dig deeper internally and uncover a vast source of willpower just   isn’t realistic. You can continue to battle it out, which is exactly what   will happen if you approach it from the perspective of her being lazy and   rude.It is never the facts of the situation that create frustration; it is the   interpretation of the facts. For example:Fact. Your daughter isn’t helping out.Interpretation. Choose one:

(1) She is lazy, rude, and choosing to be disrespectful.

(2) She is overwhelmed; shutting down from an automatic response controlled   subconsciously by her nervous system, and needs help finding her way out in   order to create a new pattern that will equip her for the future.

The first interpretation perceives only the negative and puts 100% of the   responsibility on the child. It is her job to change. You hold your ground as   the parent in charge (General Patten without Mr. Rogers) and she is the one   required to take action and change. This interpretation will keep your   parent/child relationship in a “me against her” power struggle.

The second interpretation sheds light on the truth about what is driving her   behavior. The change in behavior shifts to a focus on improving your   relationship with her. It focuses on how you can help your child, who is   overwhelmed, get out of overwhelm, not go deeper into it.

It takes courage to do something different. Trust that love and relationship,   coupled with setting expectations and boundaries, will be the solution to   getting the tasks at hand completed.


Heather T. Forbes, LCSW
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love
, and Help for Billy.

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