Lazy Children and ADHD

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

As his third grade teacher stood in the front of the class giving directions to the next assignment, the boy sat staring out the window. He often stared out the window or would spend time playing with paper or his erasers. The boy’s grades were beginning to suffer as assignment after assignment would be turned in incomplete or not turned in at all.

His teacher had never seen such a lazy child. She knew that the boy was capable of much more but he never seemed to be able to follow through on things. His teacher called the boy’s parents to tell them that their son was too lazy and was falling behind in class.

The boy’s parents saw the same type of behaviors at home, particularly with his schoolwork. Sure, if the boy was allowed to play on his PlayStation or watch YouTube videos then he was totally focused. Otherwise, it was all his parents could do to get him to complete anything. They tried telling him that he needed to just try harder.

Although it can be easy to see why the boy’s teachers and parents viewed him as lazy, there is much more going on. The assumption by adults that children are lazy is a false one. Quite the opposite, all children want to do well and succeed. Doing well brings praise and approval from adults and makes children feel better about themselves. If children have a choice, they will always choose to try and do well.

However, there are other forces that can prevent children from trying and doing their best. One of the culprits in undermining the desire to achieve is having difficulty sustaining attention. This can be particularly difficult in children with attention deficits or ADHD.

Children with attention deficits can quickly get frustrated when trying to complete tasks that are difficult and that the children find uninteresting. This explains why children with attention deficits can pay attention to video games with their bright visuals and immediate feedback yet struggle to complete math problems.

Once frustration sets in, children will become discouraged and not want to complete future tasks such as reading assignments or math problems. They can even react by becoming defiant, rebellious, and tell parents and teachers that it is “not worth it.”

Parents and teachers misinterpret these reactions as children being lazy and unwilling to put in the work necessary to be successful. They can also interpret it as these children being “behavior problems.”

The key is to realize that children with attention deficits want to do well and are capable of doing well in a good environment. This environment provides high interest tasks where children are likely to succeed. Children want to do what they are “good at” and achieve. We just need to sit down and figure out how to incorporate these areas of interest into tasks that they find less enjoyable. When that has been found, parents and teachers will wonder what happened to that lazy child.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on September 21, 2014.

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