What looks like lazy… (part two)

Continued from yesterday

If you’ve determined that your child does in fact have the capacity to commit herself to things, but that she just isn’t choosing to do her best when you’d like her to, you can go looking for the common ground between what you value and what she does.  It isn’t always immediately apparent where this overlap lies.   When kids are resisting the wisdom we offer (and those tasks that seem relatively small and harmless from our perspective!), it can seem as though they’re only interested in their own immediate gain; it can seem like they’re lazy.  But kids really do want to participate in what’s going on around them.  They just want to participate as themselves rather than as agents of the adults in charge. They want the opportunity to opt in.  So how you ask makes a difference.

Here are a couple of ways you can start the kind of conversation that will reveal this (based on the common examples of room-cleaning, thank-you note writing, and math doing).

(room) “I can tell that you really don’t feel like cleaning up your room.  And I also know that you feel like it’s your room and you should be able to keep it any way you want.  The thing is, your mom and I worked hard for a long time to be able to have this house for our family, and it’s a bummer for me when it’s messy.  It feels like it disrespects the work we did to be able to live here.  So I’m asking you to think about that when you’re deciding how you do the job of cleaning your room. Maybe we can figure out how you can have it the way you want it without it distressing me.”

(thank-you note) “You know, I was always taught that it’s important to do a good job.  But I’ve been thinking that it’s probably a good idea to think about why you’re working hard at something, or not working hard at it. I think it’s important to do a good job on your thank-you note because I know you love your grandmother and you want her to know that you appreciate what she sent you for your birthday.  If you were just leaving a note for yourself as a reminder or something, maybe it wouldn’t be as important for it to be in your best handwriting.”

(math) “I’m surprised that there are so many mistakes in this page of math problems.  I’m pretty sure that you understood the explanation, but it’s hard to tell that from the job you did on the problems.  Maybe it was annoying to you that there were so many and you just got impatient?  Maybe we should have just chosen a couple to see how well you understood, and then just added as many as you needed to practice.  Can we talk about what we could do next time that might leave us both feeling less frustrated?”

This kind of conversation invites kids to see opportunities to contribute and express the care they actually have for the people around them as well as the conditions in which they live.  It gives them a chance to see the impact they can have.

Kids are looking for – holding out for – the pursuits that carry intrinsic motivation for them, the ones that make use of them and reveal their capacities to the people around them. There are those pursuits that hold obvious reward for them, and those whose reward is not as obvious because it lies somewhat in the experience of others (like in the clean house example above).  It may seem stubborn, or obnoxious, or spoiled, but it doesn’t have to.  If we’re willing to revise our delivery of requests and requirements,  we can bring out the potential intrinsic reward in a task rather than obscure it with a demand for compliance or resistance. Kids are looking for ways to connect with and stay connected to the people they love, and to make use of the wisdom of their elders.  They just don’t want it forced on them without context.  When we approach them with the kind of respect and recognition that invites the best of them to come out, we give them the chance to show us their actual best, and it’s often far beyond what we suspected they were capable of.