Laziness and Lack of Motivation: Are You Enabling Your Kids?

Posted October 20, 2010 by

All right! I admit it, I am a natural-born enabler. Oh, not for drugs and alcohol or food, but definitely for laziness and for small infractions of the house rules. At two my grandson Coby needed someone to pour milk into his glass; at four, it was just easier and safer to keep doing it; at nine, it is purely enabling!  There he is sitting in front of the TV set while I am here in front of the computer. “Gramma,” he says, “can you get me a glass of milk?” My first instinct is to jump up and start pouring milk. Or, he asks to go to the skate park. There is a bike trail from our street to the park so there is no reason he can’t ride there on his own. So, being parental, I say, ” OK, but you have to get there and home again on your own.”

Do you see it coming? A half hour later the phone rings. “Gramma, I’m thirsty; can you stop by 7-11 and pick up some Peace Tea and bring it to me?” Weelll, it is hot and he should not get dehydrated and I am not really doing anything but washing dishes, so maybe it would be good parenting to see that he has enough to drink.  Don’t you think? Never mind that there is  a drinking fountain at the skate park; he doesn’t like the taste of that water.

His mother, on her occasional visits, demonstrates clearly how not to give in to a child.  Not only does she not pour any milk, she keeps him busy running errands for her. “Hand me this, hand me that. Run out to the car and fetch my book.” How does she do this?  He jumps to  do her bidding. She tolerates no infractions of her rules, not even a slight bending. This is totally upside down from the way things are between him and me. I have to work in order to get him to work.

I try — I really try to break this circle dance. I have read all the articles on the internet about making lists of chores and setting house rules and sticking to them 100% of the time. But that is not natural to me.  I tend to be more situational, relying on what else is going on at the time, which is ironic because I do believe in right and wrong as absolutes without negotiation. The major infractions incur immediate consequences, but the gray area of small infractions causes me to stumble. I believe that children do not need to be disrespectful, spoiled, or lazy. I know they need chores, special times for homework, and boundaries. And I have to take some of the responsibility for his irritating behavior.

There is still a gap between knowing and doing, but I am working on it.  I am working on holding my tongue until I am sure that I can and will follow through on what I say. Coby responds positively whenever I manage to improve. He wants and needs the security to offset his inauspicious introduction into this world. I need to bear in mind that my job is not to dispense grandmotherly cookies, but rather to fill in the holes in his life with constancy, love and security.

I will not do that by being manipulated.


Parent Blogger “Gigi” has a PhD in physiology and taught entering nursing students for many years. She is the mother of four and is currently raising her 9-year-old grandson, Coby.

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  1. Feel Your Pain Report

    We’ve got one of those in our house. The 2 youngest (2.5 & 5.5) both INSIST on doing things themselves (actually, I have to put my foot down to stop them from some things…like pouring juice when the bottle is full…and I have to take a deep breath and just let them do others that I know will require clean-up or fixing by me in the end…like making their own sandwiches). The oldest (9) would be in heaven if she never had a single chore/responsibility in her life. Chores are met with heavy sighs, eye rolling, and sarcastic comments. And she totally pulls the, “Can you get me a glass of water?” or “Can you open this for me?” when she is perfectly capable. I ALWAYS meet her requests with the question, “Did you try it yourself?” and even ask her to show me her efforts. I praise her when she does it herself (“See, you CAN do it! Doesn’t that make you feel good that you accomplished something you thought you couldn’t do?”) but that is met with more eye rolling, and she’ll still ask for help with that SAME thing the next day! In this case, it’s not enabling that has caused this…it’s ignoring! I am the only one that notices it, but everyone else (dad, grandparents, aunts, etc.) ignores what is being asked for (“Can you open my chips?” “Can you pour my drink?”) and respond almost robotically. My husband didn’t even realize what he was doing until I pointed it out (“Are you going to keep opening her fruit snacks until she’s 20?” and “If she can’t do it herself, how does she do it at school?”). I think we don’t just do things for our children to save ourselves the extra work, but we also respond as my husband often does, without really thinking. It takes more effort to think about what we are being asked and respond appropriately than to just react.

  2. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    Hi Desperate Mum: It can be very frustrating to have a child who does not seem to be motivated to do anything. Letting the natural consequences happen does not have to be your first and only response to your son’s lack of motivation. It is often very helpful to choose one specific behavior that your son will work on in school and try motivate him by using daily incentives or consequences. For example, the two of you might decide that he will sit at the kitchen table from 4:00-5:00 every day to do homework or make sure all assignments are written down in his planner each day. Remember to be specific—promises mean nothing without a concrete plan your son can implement. To motivate him, your son might not be allowed to watch TV that day until his homework is done and checked for completion by you. Or even better, maybe he could earn extra time doing something he likes each day if he does well on this one specific behavior. As long as you are trying to help your son learn the skills that will help him and holding him accountable, that is the best you can do. He is the one responsible ultimately for deciding to use the tools you are giving him and making better choices in school. For more information, I am attaching some articles written by James that address this topic: Motivating Underachievers Part I: When Your Child Says “I Don’t Care”, Motivating Underachievers II: Get Your Unmotivated Child on Track before School Starts. Good luck to you, and we wish you the best as you work through this with your son.

  3. Frustrated Mum Report

    I can understand the need to let the child experience natural consequences, however, if I left my son to do this, he will not pass high school and will drop out. He is only 13 at the moment and I have been having problems with him since he was two years old. He was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 8 years old. I have tried to control this with diet, but it has definitely been an ongoing struggle for whole family and is really wearing me down especially now, combined with puberty.
    I have been to numerous parent teacher meetings and also to councelling to try to help him both with his school work and his behaviour, but with very litte success. He has broken all promises to his teachers to try harder to do the right thing and behave in class and complete his homework.
    Who will he depend on then when it is too late? I won’t support him financially and he is more than happy to depend on social security payments. However, he will then become a drain on society, as he is quite happy to do nothing, no matter what the consequences and outcome. I would appreciate any suggestions on how to get him back on track and motivated to do his schoolwork and become successful in life.
    Desperate Mum.

  4. rjg54 Report

    12 year ol step son cant stay focused relies on dad to help with any tasks, cant seem to figure out the most logical things in life very spacey cant multy task.. cant seem to see the forest through the trees

  5. lkoff Report

    Teenagers Need to Get to Work!

    A concept that teenagers don’t seem to understand these days is work. Teenagers need to get to work! This may seem harsh but it simply is the truth. As a teenager, many times my thoughts run the same as other teenagers: I just don’t want to work. But the truth is, it’s healthy for teens to learn this lost art of work. Work is one of the most fundamental principles that lead to success. It develops character, it teaches responsibility, and it prepares teens for essential tasks later in life. Putting teens to work prepares them for what lies ahead: the real world.

    Endless excuses distract teens from working. Parents cater to their every whim. School schedules leave little time for any productivity. Neighbors and adults won’t trust teenagers to shovel their driveway, help in the yard, or take care of the dog because they never learned how. Teenagers can be lazy, parents let them off the hook by treating them like they are entitled to everything anyway, and society suffers.

    Through my own experiences of cleaning houses, mowing lawns, and other odd jobs, I have learned discipline by doing what needs to be done— not by expecting it to be done for me. It’s time that parents and teens decide to get to work. Maybe next time let the kid next door shovel your driveway, knowing that’s what’s best for everyone.

  6. Mothers On the Go Report

    Interesting topic of discussion. I have 02 children 6 and 3 yrs old. Though i never hold the hands on the hips and retort- Am i your servant?, but i most definitely have practiced the “look” that says it all. One look and i see them scampering to clean and clear.May sound autocratic, but this works well for me. No words are also exchanged.

  7. Mom of 3 boys Report

    Now that I have a teen, everything I ever knew about parenting is now inside out. My son is doing quite well–and I still feel this way.

    My first observation of having a teen is that if they didn’t get “Because I’m the mom,” before 12,…didn’t learn to respect you, …didn’t do chores when they’re little, it’s a lot harder to get them to respect/work as a teen/adult. With teens, it seems, almost everything I start to say has to be re-thought from the perspective of “I’m trying to teach him how to make decisions as an adult” while all the same time some boundries must never change.

    Guiding a good boy into becoming a good man is going to be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.

    The person who coined the phrase about raising teens is similar to trying to “nail jello to a tree” was definitely on to something. Parenting is always a moving target.

  8. mommymom Report

    I say, “wow!” to that article. My son (only child) is 16 and living in his own fantasy world, too. School work, home work, chores, etc. are all NOT on HIS agenda. I don’t know how he will get into a good college or if college is even in his future even though he is an extremely bright kid. The article is helpful, but it is so difficult to be consistent in following through when there has been nothing but power struggles prior. My son has a “good argument” for every time we put our “foot down.” He can be relentless and thinks he can SHOUT us into getting his way. I have learned to CALMLY respond–“Please do not shout unless you don’t want me to listen to what you have to say.” and “It is not ok for you to speak to me or anyone else in that manner. If you want me to take you seriously, speak in a normal tone.” etc. It does work because it is the opposite of the escalating power struggles we had before, however, we still have a LOT of work to do !!!!!

  9. Dr. Patti Report

    Yeah, Priscilla! I teach the parents that I work with that the “world may revolve around a very small child” but by the time that child is 3 years old — you need to introduce to them the fact that they DO NOT LIVE IN A HOTEL — but a HOME (where everyone does their share!). You are NOT to be RAISING A “CHILD” (or you will have a 30-year old “child” still living in your home someday.) You are RAISING A RESPONSIBLE ADULT — it is your job as a parent to PREPARE them for the “real world”.

    Parenting IS the “hardest job” most people will have to do — but if you don’t do it correctly — you will DESTROY the “child” you say you love!

    They WILL “thank you” later — really!

  10. jackdog Report

    Great article. My best friend has 11 year old twins and they still order and cut there food. When we all go out for dinner we cant sit together as friends because him and his wife tend to the boys like servants. Yes, they still dress them the same and take them to the potty. It’s really strange to see this I will forward them the article.

  11. sharonjon Report

    I too struggle with both having and reinforcing a structured environment at home. I guess I’ve always felt that their school day is so structured that at home there should be much less.

    My kids are 14 & 16 years old and when I was 15 years old my parents divorced leaving me home taking care of my dad and bro. This was after my mom did everything for me, so, I was and still am unstructured/overwhelmed at home..very strange because at work I am the total opposite! The issue with my kids is not much motivates them so I feel like I am always taking something away..picking a movie or the place to go to eat makes no difference to them. They have personal chores like pick up/put away their clothes, make their bed, clean up after they are done eating but not much more than that. I have a friend that cleans the house and they receive $$ for their progress at school like a job (report cards). What else can I do?

  12. urcoacharianne Report

    First I would like to thank you for raising your grandson. Consistency and guidelines are important with children as well as adjusting their responsibilities as they mature. I can understand how at times giving in to what is easier is appealing yet in the long run it may teach your grandson that things will be done for him so he doesn’t have to work at achieving his goals. One thing that works with me and I have recieved great feedback from clients is to create a chart with chores and fun time that the two of you can do together. Make an incentive for following through. The incentive should align with what motivates you and your grandson. My son loves a themed family night so on friday if all tasks have a green sticker next to them for completion he is allowed to choose the movie and the theme. Start off small so it is not so overwhelming and it is achievable given you are working on consistency. I hope this helps.

  13. TAWS-SD Report

    I have an “only child” who struggles with a lack of motivation. He tends to have a VERY one-track mind and it can be difficult to get him to move on to the next thing. I’ve tried threats & yelling, but those only cause my son to “dig in” harder which means I then have a fight on my hands. Not a successful situation all around. However, when he is tired & focused – an equation for a fight – (1) I try to sort of put myself in his shoes (mentally), (2) I then try to think of what would get me unstuck & (3) I use that as my first attempt. Next, I let him know that I understand he is tired but that his job needs to be done so, what time-frame can I expect it to be done in? Whatever time-frame he gives me, I first confirm with him that that’s when he’s agreeing to begin the task by. Then, I hold him to it firmly while respecting his time up until that moment. When I show him respect, he typically responds in kind. Worst-case scenario though, I will call his dad into the fray to take him aside & give him a stern talking to. Our son is the kindest, most patient teen we know. Something’s working right. Yeah!!!

  14. bds Report

    My mother was the ‘Oh No!’ queen. She would stop, put her hands on her hips and give you one or more parts of her repetoire.
    What’s wrong with YOUR hands?
    Get up and get it yourself (varied-mild or harsh).
    Don’t ever give anyone an excuse for calling you lazy.
    I am not your servant.
    I am WAY older than you and . . . .

    I didn’t like that script when I was a kid but I loved it when I started teaching, even more as a parent. It also taught me how not to make servants of my own children.

  15. Priscilla Report

    In my house, everyone has a job to do. I stop doing things for my 7 years old when he was 3 to 4 years old and I give him a job to do. He was a mild boy who is very helpful.

    Now with my 2nd child who is 15 months, my older boy is a great help. Will start my 2nd child with some chores once he has mastered walking and understand instructions better soon.

  16. Ruth Tyger Report

    I love this article, it hits home with me. When my son lost his dad he was only 3 and now he is 12 but through the years I have seen where I let him do many things he shouldn’t’ have, he got stuff he shouldn’t have, and now that he is older I find myself waiting on him hand and foot some days. I created this mess, I was the enabler, but it harming him. I am working on catching myself and trying to get him to be more independent, but it sure isn’t easy.

  17. Silvia Report

    I can see why you’re in this situation. Having only one child to care for does make a different than if you have to care for more than one, in what you can afford to do for the child.
    Maybe you can break the habit slowly by doing things together rather than just ask him to do things himself. Things like going shopping together and get him to get some of the things on the shopping list, then ask him to help you unpack the shopping at home. When you’re at home maybe get him involve in preparing the meal or when you finish eating, ask him to help with drying the dishes while you’re washing the dishes. It teaches him to be a bit more responsible for himself as well I suppose. That’s what I do with my kids. I have 3 kids, and my second child is lazy beyond believe, and my third one is spoilt by my husband but they seem to respond well when we give them some responsibilities to do. Having said that we have to remind them hundreds of time to begin with. My second child who is nine years old, is doing well with the responsibility that he has to do now. And my third one is slowly getting there, she’s only six years old. It doesn’t have to be big thing, little things to start with just to get them have the feeling of achieving something to motivate them in doing things for themselves.
    I hope this helps.

  18. Audrey Report

    I can so totally empathise. When the kids were young, it was so much easier to do everything for them because I do not want to clean up after them. But as time goes by, I finally realised that I did more harm than good to them.



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