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Motivation and Laziness Concerns for a 10 year old

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My son just turned 10 mid-July and has for the past 18 months become difficult in getting him motivated to help with household chores. He becomes angry and at times will fall so far out of control he begins crying, screaming and slamming things. I see him as selfish and out of control. Am I misjudging him? When asked about his behaviour he tells makes some excuse that he cannot mow the lawn good enough or that the task given to him is hard. My question how do I bring him out of this laziness (unmotivated) state to help around the house? He is only asked to mow the lawn once a week and assist in emptying the dishwasher twice a week.

In the classroom....He has always viewed school as boring. He is an A-B student with no discipline problems. Every year since 1st grade I have the same conversations with teachers, "That he is in a hurry to finish the task at hand, get to the next and be finished with his day at school so he can get home and do the stuff he likes." At home he is usually outside playing with friends, basketball and riding bikes or scooter. Inside he plays video games or watches television. My second question how do I keep him slowed down and focused on the current task to completion?

By the way I also have a 14-year old daughter that is a straight A student. Motivated in all tasks presented to her to complete them the best she can including chores at home. She says, "I don't like them but I would rather just get them over with." No arguments, no temper and no crying. Thank you for clarification on what could be happening with my son and his personality.

A: Being 10 can be quite hard for a child as it stands on the cusp of adolescence, and are in many ways looking and behaving like the teens they are turning into. In your case this started 18 months ago when he was 8 plus and I believe it could have got worse as for some kids, puberty is experienced and changes in the body and feeling may not be as acceptable as with other individuals.

This is also when responsibilities increase. You did not indicate if he was fine with the household chores or when you started giving him the responsibility. If chores are new, these kids may find it hard especially if they are going through other changes such as being more responsible for themselves (in terms of completing their school tasks, grooming issues, self care etc). I wouldn't say that you are misjudging him per se, but you are comparing him with an expectation you have set – probably based on what your daughter has demonstrated. This may not be fair on him as difference in sexes may show different behaviour at different ages. They may appear to be more independent, at the same time, they still need to be guided and assisted with following and sticking on a given schedule and some organising skills (e.g., in the case of the chores given to him).

What about home conditions? Is it conducive? E.g., if there any disrespecting going on (between parents, siblings or other adults)? Is any such incident is apparent, it needs to be corrected. Boys at 10 start to define themselves as members of the larger “male” group and can be very impressionable – they would tend to copy the behaviours of adults, especially their dads' attitude towards their mothers. Therefore, be aware of this.

What about his peers? Are you aware of who he is friends with at school or in the neighbourhood? Is there parental control on his computer? Is he spending a lot of time on the internet unsupervised? Check the internet history and you may be in for a surprise at the kind of things he may be looking up. At this point awareness is low but they can easily pick up nad language and habits from internet alone. Be aware who his friends are and make sure he hangs around with good kids – peer pressure will start to mount from now on and they would prefer to listen to their peers rather than parents. Perhaps, it may be a good idea to try to hear what they are talking about once in a while (without their knowledge, of course!). Does he play a lot of video games and do you know the types of games he plays? Violent games make kids more aggressive than necessary. Be mindful of the kind of games he is playing.

You have to be firm with him. Chores are chores, they need to be done and there are no excuses unless he is unwell or there is a really valid reason. Be consistent. Every time he becomes rude or disrespectful, ignore the behaviour and make it known that he still has to do it regardless. You may take away some of his privileges. If you let him off, he will learn that this is a way out and would repeat the behaviour. When the job is done and he is calm, talk to him and explain that you love him but would not accept such behaviour.

At school, I believe he is probably not challenged enough. He gets completing task with minimal effort and there is no motivation to carry on. Sometimes kids are just not motivated by school work, but are highly motivated in other areas. Did you have him assessed for special programmes? What does the teacher say about his general ability? If he's an A-B student with no disciplinary issues, he appears to be breezing smoothly. This indicates that his school work is not challenging enough.

As a normal part of childhood, occasional emotional outbursts are acceptable and normal. However, if you notice an ongoing pattern of the following behaviours, especially if the child's actions cause them difficulty in everyday functioning and stresses you too much, a thorough evaluation is warranted. These behaviours are not accepted and if you child displays them, do seek help:

  • Frequent and/or extreme temper tantrums

  • Tendency to be easily annoyed by others

  • Blatant refusal to comply with household or school rules

  • Takes argumentative stance with adults

  • Rude, uncooperative and confrontational attitude

  • Use of mean-spirited language when upset

  • Deliberate attempts to upset and annoy others

  • Frequent bursts of anger or resentful attitude

  • Tendency to place blame on others

  • Outward and belligerent defiance

  • Revengeful attitude

I think your son is going through a developmental change and it is stressing you more than necessary because he is being compared to his sister. This is not right as no two siblings are the same in behaviour and personality. It may affect him if you are always telling him off and especially if he sees his sister being pampered. Last but nor least, be firm and make it known to him that the tasks given have to be completed in a given time no matter what. Be consistent – he will get the message. Wishing you all the best.


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