You get a lot a lot of defiance on a daily basis from your child. He’s seems to have all the excuses in the world to avoid doing his chores, his homework, being nice to sister…the list goes on and on. I get it. You’re frustrated by all the stall tactics. You can think of one reason why it could be and you want to let him know it. Whether it slips out or you fully intended to tell him your thoughts, you say it:
“You’re just being lazy.”
Why is calling your child lazy the wrong thing to say? Because it’s dangerous. Here are three reasons why:
- It lowers self-esteem. What is said to your child becomes his inner voice. A critical statement from a parent can play like a tape loop in your child’s mind for years to come. It’s not a benefit to be labeled by anyone as lazy, especially by a parent.
- You’re modeling name calling. While it may seem like just an adjective to you, it’s insulting to your child. If your child learns from you that insults are ok, imagine what he’ll say when he’s frustrated with his friends, siblings, or even future spouse and children.
- You may be missing the real reason behind your child’s lack of motivation. When you call your child lazy you’re dismissing any genuine reason he may have for not accomplishing the task. This is a missed opportunity for you and your child to problem solve the reason for the reluctance. Need help with figuring out the reasons? Stepping into your child’s shoes, try and see if any of the statements below might be the reason.
Reasons why your child seems lazy but really isn’t:
Afraid of failure: Your child may feel incapable or doesn’t believe in himself. If so, these are powerful negative thoughts that need a lot of support to overcome. Calling him lazy is the opposite of what your child needs.
Also, if your child’s response to being asked to do something is “I can’t,” consider the possibility that he really can’t. Sometimes parents set expectations too high. Look at what the task is you want your child to accomplish. If it’s possible it’s unreasonable for him to accomplish it all, try breaking it down into smaller steps that he can accomplish one on one.
Afraid of Judgement: If he already is receiving judgement by you for NOT doing something, imagine what his fears may be if he DOES try to do something. Do you ever have that thought “I want to do X but I’m not sure what Y will say”? Your child may be having those fears too. Reassure him that you believe in him and support him fully. This can work for every task from taking the trash out to completing that English essay.
Avoiding frustration: It doesn’t feel good to be frustrated. Plain and simple. If what you’re asking your child to do produces frustration, it’s possible he is delaying doing it because it’s tough to deal with those emotions. Try acknowledging the frustration. “I know it’s frustrating to have to work on new math problems. You can always take a break when you get frustrated, and I am here too if you need help.”
Depression: Some of the main symptoms of depression are lack of motivation, low energy, and not engaging in activities that one used to be able to do. If your child’s attitude or behavior has recently changed and you see this problem at home and school, it’s time to discuss with your child if he’s depressed.
Medical condition/Not feeling good: I’ll give you an example of this from my personal life. When I was two years old I was barely speaking. Most two year olds should be speaking 50 or more words. What did my parents think? They thought I was lazy! It wasn’t until a pediatrician noticed I had fluid behind my ear drums, and I was treated with ear tubes, that I began to speak. The moral of the story is my parents chalking up my lack of speech to laziness could have seriously delayed my speech development. I’m grateful they eventually got a second opinion.
It’s common for kids to complain of headaches and stomachaches, especially when they are stressed. But even if physical symptoms are stressed induced, it doesn’t mean you ignore them. Take them to a doctor or specialist to rule out any physical causes.
Bottom line: Barring all these reasons, let’s say you ask your child to do something and they just don’t want to do it? Why the need to call them lazy? There are a number of other words that could more accurately describe your child’s behavior without all the dangers of the “L” word.
Try “unmotivated.” Ask your child why he is unmotivated and have a dialogue. You can never go wrong with respectfully discussing with your child his feelings and problem solving a solution together.
Please let me know: Have you ever called your child lazy? Looking at your child’s behavior, is there something else that could be going on that needs to be addressed? What other words could you say to your child to motivate him to action?
Jenmarie Eadie is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who is passionate about helping children to become less stressed by giving them and their parents tools, support and encouragement. She received her Master’s in Social Work from Arizona State with a dual concentration in Children, Youth, and Families; and Behavioral Health.