Most parents know the struggle of trying to get their child to complete a task or chore at home, only for them to forget. In this Verywell Family article, Zishan Khan, MD, explains the difference, and what parents can do to motivate kids to listen.  

Is My Child Lazy or Just Forgetful_Zishan Khan,MD_Mindpath Health

Have you ever come home from dropping your child at school, and realize that their room is a mess—even though you just asked them to clean up? If your children are like mine, they might simply say they “forgot.” Children certainly remember to eat their dessert or play on their tablet—but what about clearing their plates into the trash or plugging their devices back in for the night? 

What Causes Motivation (Or Lack Thereof) in Children?

Trying to make sense of children’s motivation can be confusing and challenging. Very few studies on the attention spans of elementary school-aged children have been completed, but the general knowledge passed around parent groups and blogs seems to be that children can concentrate between two to five minutes for every year of their age. So, a 5-year-old might be able to concentrate for 10 or 15 minutes at a stretch, while a 10-year-old might be able to focus for 20 to 30. 

Getting children to pay attention to instructions can be half the battle when it comes to completing tasks.  

Most kids have no interest in cleaning up after themselves simply because cleaning isn’t fun. Ashley Hodges, LCSW with Wellington Counseling Group, says that being unmotivated can be linked to the level of desire a child has to complete a task.  

For children, interest in an activity can be directly related to how quickly they do it—or if they do it at all. Adult-like attention isn’t achieved until after puberty. 

Zishan Khan, MD, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health, further explains that laziness is “extremely unlikely” in elementary school-aged children. Even though kids look like they’re being “lazy,” it’s often more likely about interest. Dr. Khan says that being healthy and getting enough sleep can also be factored into motivation. 

What Makes a Child Forgetful?

Apathetic or unmotivated children aren’t the only trials facing parents.  

As frustrating as it can be to hear, kids simply don’t assign the same level of importance to tasks as their parents do. They are busy with the work of play, building their brains, and being imaginative. For younger children, this play is vital in helping them learn about the world. 

“A parent should also consider the age of the child and try to discern what is developmentally appropriate. At certain ages, children have an immature sense of responsibility,” Dr. Khan says. 

Forgetfulness at Home vs. School 

So many parents have the experience of hearing that their child is a delight in class, and never forgets what they’re told…while watching that same child waltz past the mess in the living room that they’ve been instructed to clean up multiple times. What gives? 

Counterintuitively, it can be because a child feels safe at home that they do not remember their responsibilities all the time.  

It might not feel good to have your child resist you, but it’s a sign they know they’ll still be loved even if they misbehave, similar to attachment when they’re infants. 

How to Teach Motivation

Dr. Kahn says that you can create a supportive environment for your kids with small, simple measures to help them remember tasks, like to-do lists, organizational systems for homework, and chore charts. 

If your child has sustained difficulty with their motivation that seems out of line with their peers, other attention issues may be to blame. It’s important to keep in mind that these attentional differences are not likely situational, but may have been present since your child was a preschooler.  

Read the full Verywell Family article with sources. 

Zishan Khan, MD

Frisco, TX

Dr. Zishan Khan is board-certified in child, adolescent, and adult psychiatry. Dr. Khan primarily treats children, adolescents, and young adults suffering from ADHD, anxiety, depression, and behavioral issues that often keep them from reaching their full potential. He works with patients of various cultural and professional backgrounds, helping people improve their lives and conquer their struggles. He prides himself on ... Read Full Bio »

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