12 reasons your child seems lazy and unmotivated (and what you can do about it)


(Photo by Getty Images)

By Daniel Wong

Everyone struggles with motivation at some point – children and teenagers are no exceptions.

If your children start to exhibit signs like worsening grades, a lack of interest in activities, or a tendency toward isolation — your children probably aren’t lazy. They may just be dealing with other issues that haven’t been addressed yet.

Thankfully, there are ways to overcome these difficulties and create a healthy environment in which your children can flourish.

Reason #1: Your child feels overwhelmed or discouraged

Think about how you deal with overwhelming issues as an adult.

If you don’t know where to start, you focus on small portions of the problem or find a way to look at the issue in a new light. But children don’t automatically know how to do this.

So when a stressful situation arises, walk your children through the problem: What’s overwhelming about the issue? Where should we start? What are some possible solutions?

These types of probing questions will get your children to examine the problem in a calm manner. By working on the problem together with them, they’ll know that they’re not alone.

Children can also become overwhelmed by discouragement. Remind your children that failure helps them to learn, and that you’re no less proud of them when they experience setbacks.

Encouragement is an excellent motivator in children, so offer it freely and often.

Reason #2: There’s an ongoing power struggle between you and your child

Every parent dreads the infamous battle of the wills.

It can play out in many ways when it comes to motivation.

For instance, if your children are lagging behind in a particular subject and you deal with the situation in a harsh manner, they may simply shut down. They may refuse to comply with your requests just to further anger you.

Many parents find that offering choices instead of issuing commands works well as an alternative approach. For example, you could ask your child, “Would you like to go to the library and find books on this subject, or would you like to approach your teacher for help?”

This type of question gives your children some freedom, while still pointing them in the right direction.

Reason #3: Your child is struggling with perfectionism

You know the perfectionist when you see him or her: the desire to please, the obsession with getting everything right, and the tendency to procrastinate.

What many people don’t realise about perfectionism is that it can be crippling. The desire to achieve perfection causes intense pressure as the child develops a paralysing fear of failure.

So be mindful of the messages you send your children.

If you lose your cool over a broken cup or a bad grade, your children may start to believe that they need to be perfect all the time.

Remind your children that it’s okay to make mistakes. After all, the goal is progress, not perfection.

Reason #4: Your child feels that he or she is being treated as a problem, not a person

If your children seem lazy or unmotivated, it’s understandable that you’re frustrated. But if you treat them as if they’re a problem you’re trying to solve, they won’t respond well.

What should you do instead?

Let your children know that you care about who they are as people. Connect with them over things that interest them. Discuss their favourite books and hobbies. Find out what kind of music they like.

This will help your children to understand that, while they may be struggling, you’ll be there with them the entire way.

Reason #5: Your child feels forced into performing the task or activity

Children (and adults too) don’t like being forced into doing things.

So don’t waste your time trying to coerce them into behaving a certain way. They’ll end up feeling frustrated, and so will you.

Instead, motivate your children by emphasising the reward they’ll get once they finish the task. “When you finish your homework, you can watch TV for half an hour.”

In addition, offer your children choices as often as you can, e.g., “Would you like to take out the trash now or after dinner?”

Reason #6: Your child is under negative influence from peers

Your son starts swearing, or you receive news that your daughter has been bullying her classmates.

“That’s not like them,” you think – and it probably isn’t. Most likely, they’re being influenced by those around them.

When you address the issue at hand, don’t jump to conclusions, and don’t be too quick to dish out punishment. Instead, speak to your children calmly and understand their perspective.

Get them to think about their actions, and help them to reflect on the values and principles they want to live by.

Reason #7: Your child is depressed

If you’ve witnessed unusual symptoms in your child like fatigue, loss of appetite, irritability, or social withdrawal — he or she may be depressed.

If this describes your child, get professional help immediately. The longer you wait, the greater the likelihood that the situation will spiral out of control.

Reason #8: Your child has a learning disability

In some cases, it’s not laziness that’s the issue. Some children suffer from learning disabilities that hinder them from understanding or retaining information.

They may struggle with basic grammar and math, or find it hard to remember simple equations.

In recent years, there’s been an over-diagnosis of learning disabilities like ADHD. But if you strongly suspect that your child has a learning disability, speak with the school about getting an evaluation done.

If it turns out that your child has a learning disability, you can work with the teachers to develop a plan of action.

Reason #9: Your child isn’t taking care of his or her physical health

We often underestimate how closely our mental performance is linked to our physical health.

It’s vital that your children have a balanced diet, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly.

Too much sugar and a lack of sleep lead to an inability to focus. This will have a direct impact on your children’s performance in school.

Limit the sweets and processed snacks that you keep around the house. Also, do your best to ensure that everyone in the home gets to bed on time.

Reason #10: Your child feels that he or she is being micro-managed

No one likes having a boss who’s a micro-manager. Neither do children and teenagers like having parents who are micro-managers.

So resist the urge to control every aspect of your children’s lives: what clothes they wear, what food they eat, when they do their homework, which friends they hang out with.

As the saying goes, “Parents should prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.”

As much as possible, involve your children in the process of establishing rules and determining the consequences when those rules are broken.

This will make it much more likely that they’ll abide by those rules, which means that you won’t need to micromanage them either.

Reason #11: Your child feels that the acceptance he or she receives from you is conditional

Do you only praise your children when they meet your standards? Do you show your children that you love them, regardless of their behaviour or accomplishments?

If children feel as if they’re only loved when they act a certain way, their motivation will wane, because they may give up trying to earn your love.

Of course, you should have expectations of your children in terms of their values and moral standards. But always remind them that you love them unconditionally.

Reason #12: Your child lacks mentors or role models

Every child needs a mentor, but it’s hard for parents to play this role, especially when the child reaches the teenage years.

Mentors provide children and teenagers with a fresh perspective on education and life. More importantly, their advice won’t be perceived as nagging, as it might be if the same advice came from the parents.

Research also shows that children who have a mentor experience greater levels of life satisfaction than children who don’t. So I encourage you to find a trusted friend who’s willing to meet with your child periodically to mentor him or her. (I also offer this mentoring/coaching program.)


In this article, you’ve learned the 12 common reasons why children and teenagers seem lazy or unmotivated. Depending on the situation, there may be several factors at play.

As such, helping your children regain their motivation will likely require a multi-pronged approach.

(Download this free worksheet to aid you in developing a plan to help your unmotivated child.)

Take it one step at a time and one day at a time. I’m confident that your efforts will pay off in the long run, and you’ll see that your children have become more diligent, responsible, and motivated.

Daniel Wong works with students 1-to-1 to help them become motivated, focused, and disciplined. Download this FREE planning worksheet to go along with this article, so that you can better help your unmotivated child.