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Lazy kids and motivation

John Stein

Occasionally, I hear people talking about lazy kids.

I’ve never met a lazy kid.

I have met a lot of kids who were not motivated to do something that someone else thought they ought to do. Something that others thought was necessary, important, or good in one way or another.

But I didn’t think they were lazy.

I did meet kids who didn’t believe something they “ought” to do was important. Sometimes, they simply didn’t understand why something was important. Many of these kids simply did not understand the world and the connections between their behavior and what happened in their lives and how other people treated them. Once they understood why something was important, they “became motivated.”

And I met kids who understood that something was desirable. They would like to do it. But they just didn’t believe that they could do it. So they didn’t try. Some simply lacked the ability. If we helped them to develop their skills, they “became motivated.” Others had the ability but lacked confidence in themselves and their abilities. They had little experience with success. When we were able to help them develop their self-confidence through having some experiences with success, they became motivated to attempt things they had been afraid to try.

I met kids for whom things that looked easy to others were really, really hard for them. They wanted to do things, but the effort they had to expend was just too great. It is really hard for some kids to sit still. Or to be neat. Or do their homework in a chaotic and noisy household. Or think about the future. If we were successful in making it easier for them in some way, perhaps by improving their skills, perhaps in providing supports, they became motivated.

I met kids for whom other things were more important than the things we thought they ought to do. When we were successful in helping them rearrange their priorities, or better organize their time and efforts so that they could do more things, they became motivated.

I met kids who just didn’t believe that doing something would pay off for them. Lots of kids have this problem when the pay-off is far in the future, like finishing school to get a job. This is perhaps the toughest problem. Sometimes if we could help them identify some benefits in the short term, they became motivated.

I often saw this problem in multiple placement kids. Even when they got a placement they liked, they didn’t believe that it would last. Rather, they felt certain that this, too, would pass. So they were not motivated to do well. They did not believe it would pay off for them. Even worse, the tension of waiting for something to go wrong became almost unbearable, making reasoned behavior almost impossible for them. We just had to wait them out and keep them (and others) safe until they realized that we were not going to throw them away. Eventually, they became motivated.

But I never met a lazy kid.