Imagine: Busting the myth of laziness — ‘Kids will do well if they can’
Laziness is not an innate trait, so let’s stop shaming our children about it. They will grow and flourish at their own pace which cannot be dictated by us.
“He is just so lazy; he does not want to do anything in life.” Nikhil sat quietly listening to his father, shoulders stooped and looking utterly crestfallen. He had recently “failed” his exams, and his parents had dragged him to meet me in the hope of “fixing” their son. They had a long list of concerns for their 13-year-old, including his disinterest in studies, constant complaints from school about his “lackadaisical attitude”.
When I asked Nikhil about his views on the problem he shrugged and repeated his father’s words, “I am lazy.” This young man had bought into the story of laziness without questioning it. After all, if everybody in the society had decided that with such vehemence, then who was he to challenge it? He described how he struggled to get up on time for school, the procrastination, how fed up his parents were with his low grades and accused him of wasting his time. He shared why he hated the words that every teacher put in his report card, “not living up to the potential”, as according to him, it was “just a polite way of saying you are lazy”.
I am sure there is a part of you that might be thinking that all this criticism is justified. If he is not working hard and is lazy, then somebody has to prod him, otherwise he will end up wasting his life. I get where you are coming from, but I do not agree with it because there is a simple belief I have:
Kids will do well if they can
This statement was made by child psychologist Ross Greene (author of Explosive Child) and I think he has given a slogan for all the misunderstood kids of our world. Every child wants to do well. From the time they are little, they are wired to move forward, achieve and relish it. Have you seen the way a baby looks gleeful when you clap at every step she takes? As she grows older that glee comes from different skills she accomplishes — running, cycling, colouring, drawing, self-dressing, feeding herself, etc. After she joins school, she keeps getting a steady dose of it as she learns how to form letters, read, make friends. Every smiley and star from the teacher is like little fuel that keeps the motor of skill building moving forward. If things work out well for her, then she would gradually become independent, take pride in her work, regulate herself to be an efficient human being. We all marvel at children like her as they tick all the boxes for a smart kid whose success in life is ensured.
Then we have kids like Nikhil who are just not getting it right. We rail at them for having no sense of time, being disorganised, not listening, procrastinating, being messy, scattered and yes just plain “lazy”. However, is this laziness or something else? If every child will do well if he can then we need to know what is stopping him? Is there a learning or attention difficulty or a certain wiring of the child’s brain that is coming in the way of his moving forward? Or what we see as laziness is actually depression due to which the child is refusing to get out of the room and go to school or college? Maybe he is struggling with feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, and our condemnation is making him shut himself further. Is there a possibility that perhaps our expectations are too high and he does not fit into our idea of a perfect child? Or is he just a late bloomer and will take time to find his niche and blossom?
It could be any of these reasons and some more, but it is definitely not laziness. And one thing is crystal clear — shaming is not going to work and will actually damage his sense of worthiness and your relationship with him.
So what can we do instead?
“He or she is so lazy” is the single most frequent complaint I hear from parents and teachers. It is like a convenient dumping bag of all problems. After my assessment, when I tried to explain to Nikhil’s parents that he had an attention and learning difficulty due to which skills like focusing, managing time, organising his stuff, self-regulation could become a challenge for him, his father dismissed my words with, “There is nothing wrong with him, he is just lazy!” He preferred to see his son as lazy rather than having a genuine difficulty for which he could not be blamed! The reason is that when a child is lazy then we have the permission to shame him and expect him to do something about it. However, when it is a real problem of wiring, emotional problem or our high expectations then we have to accept and do something about it, but we are not ready to take that responsibility.
No child wants to, on purpose, not do well, or be shamed for being lazy. When a child is not doing well, what they need is our compassion and curiosity so that we can empathise with his struggle, but we can also go one step ahead and understand what is holding him back. It took Nikhil’s parents some time to accept his learning difficulty, let go of their assumptions and judgment and listen to their child and understand his hardships.