22 answers

10 Year Old Son Being Lazy with School Work

I have been battling my son's lazy streak since he started school. I just had a parent teacher conference with his teacher this morning. He has been missing recess and not doing his math problems in a timely fashion. I am at a loss. Since 1st grade my son has had an uncanny ablity to stay in his seat, not be disruptive, but not get his work done. He can sit for HOURS and still not get his work done that should only take 15-20 minutes.

We just moved to a new school, which he has had to do far more frequently than I would have liked. This last move was hard on him because he made some close freinds at the last school. We only moved across town, so I made sure that we have his friends phone numbers from the old school and he's even gone to play dates with his friends. I feel his recent slacking off has a little bit to do with the move, but not THAT much, as he's been doing this at EVERY school, and in EVERY grade he's been in. He also won't ask for help when he doesn't understand a problem or question.

We have tried taking away his toys, grounding him from TV and Computer time, sitting with him to keep him focused, rewards, and using timers. His teachers have to keep on him to do his work in class, and keeps him in from recess several times a week to get him to finish his work, and he often still brings it home and sits for hours not getting it done. Nothing we have tried works!

He does not have ADD/ADHD as he can focus when he wants to. Even more frustraiting is that he is a SMART kid. He has the best vocabulary in his class. He is at grade level for all his state testing. The work is easy for him if he would just do it!

I would love some suggestions on discipline and/or other things I could do to get him motivated. I feel I am fighting a loosing battle! HELP!

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Thanks for all of your suggestions. I appreciate the concern of all of you for my son. He is a great kid and deserves the best.

Addressing some of your concerns:
1.Moving- We moved from a 2 bedroom condo where he had to share a room with his step-sister on weekends, to a 3 bedroom house with a yard. He was asked directly if he wanted to move or not. He made the decision that he wanted his own room, even if it meant changing schools. If he had not wanted to do it we would not have moved. This move would have been needed in the next 2 years, as I don't want my oposite sex kids sharing a room with the onset of puberty when privacy is a necessity.

This move has also put us into a much more affordable area of town for when we are able to buy a house in 5 years. We do not plan to move until we are ready to buy, and we will not buy in an area outside of his current school district. I am not planning to move him again, baring any catistrophic events. I don't take uprooting my son lightly. I have encouraged him not to shut himself off from his new class mates. He has already made a few friends.

2. Medical issues- I do not believe my son has a medical problem. His eyes have been tested and we have been told he has better eye sight than he should for a child his age. (He was actually mad he didn't need glasses!) Even when he looks distracted, he can tell you exactly what is going on in class. There is a family history of "lazy" school work. This includes me, my brother and my father. None of us have ADD/ADHD or other medical conditions that caused the behavior. We were bored. He understands the work he is doing. He himself said his homework is "boring". I have talked to him about that and told him if he would just get it done, he would have more time for fun things (like recess with friends and time with mom).

3. My work schedule- I work 40 hrs a week on salary, rarely with any overtime. My schedule is very predictable and stable. I disscussed with my son about spending time with me. The main bar to him getting to spend more time with me has been his not getting his home work done. I explained the only time I have with him is in the morning when I drive him to school, evenings, and on weekends. That I look forward to that time with him. I told him that it is no fun for me when he spends his entire evening in his room doing his homework and that I would like to spend more time with him. He seemed to respond to this as well.

4. Extra curricular activities- My son participates in rec. soccer in the fall and spring. He is also a cub scout. Money has been tight this winter with my husband being off work, so we have not been able to enroll him in any winter activities other than cub scouts. He has the same homework issues even when he is busy.

5. Taking away privledges- He has an attitude once something gets taken, that it wasn't all that important anyway, and it doesn't really affect him. So I am looking for another way. Punitive reactions don't seem to be working.

New approaches-

We are implementing a new homework policy. He has 2 hrs to do his homework before I get home. When I get home, I will sit down with him for an hour to go over his work and help him with anything he is struggling with. For every day he gets his homework completed by the time I get home, he will earn a star. When he gets 14 stars, he will earn a toy that he has been asking for. He has expressed some eagerness to this idea.

I am also going to talk to his teacher about having him do some more challenging tasks in class. I will update in a few weeks to let you know how he's doing.

Featured Answers

I just wanted to say that I think it is horrible he is having recess taken away. Exercise is so important to all levels of development. I would personally ask the teacher to stop doing that. Have you tried sitting down and doing the homework with him, step by step? That might be all he needs, a one on one tutor. Good luck!

More Answers


I am not saying that this is the case but I wanted to clarify a statement you made regarding ADD/ADHD.

Just because a child can focus when he/she wants DOES NOT mean he/she does not have ADD/ADHD. As a matter of fact children who can "hyper" focus on something they love-- tune everything in the world out-- yet seem "unwilling" to pay attention otherwise are classic ADD candidates. Unfortunately, the ability to focus like that often leads to misdiagnosis. This is especially true of ADD, as it doesn't manifest itself in disruptive behavior but rather in staring off in space quiet behavior.

Again, I am not suggesting this is your son's issue. I just didn't want you to dismiss it out of hand and possibly miss a tool that could help your guy.

By the way, I highly reccommend the suggestion that his tasks be broken up in to smaller chunks. I also reccommend that as he completes each "chunk" he check in with the teacher/parent for some quick positive feed back and motivation for the next "chunk." Start with the pieces small and build them up as he gets confidence. This struggle has been happening for a long time now so be patient. He probably views himself as lazy or unfocused and it will take a while to reverse this notion.

Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful

Hi S.,
I'm a fourh grade teacher...I specialize in 9 and 10 year olds. As a teacher taking recess from a student is a consequence that I use daily for those who forget homework/ assignments, etc. When I've had students who just can't get all the work done there are several things I've done. Surely if the teacher brought it up to you, he/she is tired of what your son isn't doing. You are obviously frustrated as well. The first thing I would suggest is to ask for extended time. In my room we have a daily assignment, but it's not due until the next day. The majority (often all) of my students finish within the time in class, bu they know that they have until the next day to complete it and turn it in. That's not to say they can sit and do nothing instead of work, but it allows for slow, thoughtful work. If that doesn't work, why can't he have shortened assignments. That's not to say the expectations are lowered, bu that you're after the quality of work, not the quantity of work. Instead of doing an assignment of 20 problems, and getting totally frustrated, why not just do 10 problems. As a teacher, I can tell in 10 problems if a child understands the concept or not. I don't need 20 problems that are a full-on stuggle to see if a child knows it or not. I usually assign the even #s or the odd #s. Obviously the consequences you and the teacher are handing out aren't working or motivating. Try positive reinforement. He EARNS things for completing his work...and I'm not talking monetary things. My students love going to work for a teacher in the younger grades, or work with a student in a younger grade. The little kids love having big kids come read to them. Maybe your son could earn minutes of free time in the library (where he's supervised by someone other than the teacher). It's also really easy for me to offer a student and buddy a "lunch in the classroom" day here and there. Maybe once a month or so? Does the teacher do book orders? Maybe you could pick out items he likes, set a goal for him, and he could earn a book order item 1x month. I'd be happy to give you more suggestions. I'd just call the teacher and ask for some accommodations to be made. You can always work up the number of problems he needs to complete once he's found success with shorter assignments.
Take care,

1 mom found this helpful

I am an ex teacher of gifted young children. I am not saying your child is gifted. But he does fit the profile of a child that is more bored with the content of the class and in danger of acting out soon as he gets older, rather than spending time in learning.

I think he needs to be tested to see how high he preforms on his academic/intelligence tests.

And then be placed or given appropriate work for his level of achievement.

1 mom found this helpful

He may be bored - some kids needs something to stimulate their productivity.

I was lazy with school work too - but loved to take tests.

Look into some alternative learning programs or tutors. Think about what made you passionate in earning your degrees - it may be as simple as making an association with the subject.

1 mom found this helpful

Is he not being challenged enough? Does he need to be evaluated for TAG?

1st of all, all the moving IS most of the problem. Making new friends in school is not easy, not fun, & down right depressing. I was there. Started 9th grade not knowing a single person. We moved when I was in pre-school, kindergarten, 3rd grade, 5th grade, & 9th grade...

2nd, get him to talk to a counselor, not the school one. That made it worse for me, to be pulled out of class to go talk to the counselor. The other kids were relentless in teasing.

3rd, he's having a hard time making and keeping friends, or afraid to make friends because he thinks you might move again. Get him involved in extra curricular activities? Church youth group, sports, ymca, Boys N Girls club,...something and try to be involved in it with him.

He may be being teased or bullied. Find out. I don't know why you have to keep moving, but if you can make it work & not move until he graduates high school, I think would make things better IN YOUR SONS MIND.

With working full time, being the main income for your family, how much time do you get to spend with your son? Maybe he is lonely and wants your attention?

Hi S.,

This can't be easy for you. Please consider that this latest move has been more difficult for your son than the others, or, more likely, the cumulative effect of all the moves is rearing its ugly head. I think your son needs a break. He needs someone to be patient and understanding. I would think the last thing he needs is the pressure of getting all of his homework done on top of everything else. He's at a very challenging age for himself. His life is in flux, and he's probably very frustrated and missing his friends. Perhaps he may even have a bit of depression. Please try to get his teacher to consider a flexible homework load for him until he is better adjusted to his new school. As difficult as this is for you, it's all that much more difficult for your little boy. Keep it positive with rewards for little steps, rather than penalties. I bet he'll come around, but he needs your help and understanding to get through a rough period. Remember, kids don't have the mental development to deal with major life changes that adults have. It's up to us to guide them with love and patience. I wish you luck and your son happiness.

Hi S.,
I have a son who is on the autistic spectrum who has great difficulty simply "getting started" on tasks. It often requires us to help him in his transition from whatever he is doing to simply begin. Transitions are difficult in general, but getting started seems most difficult of all.

I have concerns about keeping a ten year old in from recess on a regular basis. I don't believe punishment is a very good motivator for children and it seems clear that this behavior has been going on for your son's entire school history. That would imply that this isn't a willful behavior choice so much as a personal struggle or trait, and I think it is important to try to figure out the reason behind it.

With Aspergers, you can have a child with incredible focus but only on subjects of personal interest. In the case of my son, he is incredibly bored with school and doesn't feel challenged. But it is bigger than that. He has internal struggles with time management, organization, perfectionism and social anxiety which can often lead to an impression of laziness when in fact he is struggling and feeling overwhelmed.

Our son is on an I.E.P. and one of his modifications is to allow him to turn in LESS work. If he shows mastery of a concept in a few problems, the teachers accept that number of problems and do not punish him for not completing all that was assigned.

Children do not enjoy failure and they don't usually persist in non-successful behaviors if they can help it. I hope you can figure out what your son is experiencing internally when he begins to "shut down" with his assignments. He may actually be feelling overwhelmed. He needs someone to understand his experience so you can better help him to navigate through his difficulties with what is being required of him.

Good luck with this. It took us a very long time to figure out why our son was struggling.

I was this way when I was a kid too, but for me, it started in about 3rd grade. I just kinda got bored with school, and I was frustrated and felt stupid if I had to ask for help, so I didnt. Most of the time I didnt understand when i DID ask for help anyways. I did graduate. I was technically behind when I graduated, but I DID graduate. Then much later I went to college. College I found out that I am good at school! LOL.
I never was good at focusing in school, I dont know why, I just simply was borred and so I entertained my mind with other things. I also had some friends that were this way, They were in trouble alot in school because they werent doing their work. Their mom finall figured out that the classes were too easy for them and they were put in the classes for the kids that were ahead of everyone else. School was just too easy.. and they still were acting the same way, they were still bored with school, and they started doing sports and other extra curricular activities, and they did EVERYTHING.. they were in plays, track, basketball, volleyball, choir..and all the advanced classes.. they were BUSY, but they were finally paying attention in class, and still getting good grades, and having a BLAST in school.
My nefew recently started doing this too, he is just turned 12 and my mom in law thought maybe he had a hard time reading or something (that didnt make since either since he could read a harry potter book within a week!) He kept complained that he wanted to try out for some sports and I think that his moms boyfriend finally told him that if he does good in school that they would let him try out for sports, and this year he has been in football and he is now in basketball. He has wanted to do this for a long time and he was finally allowed to do what he wanted and he is doing great in school!

We had similar problems, but had some other things associated with it (poor handwriting, hates to draw and some other subtle symptoms). In my son's case, the problem ended up being an eye issue - he has 20/20 vision, but his eyes were not teaming well. There are a number of subtle things that can be wrong with the eyes that can effect school work (and life) in negative ways. If you live in Eugene, the place to get checked for this is Life Time Eye Care. They have lots of litersture availabvle at the office if you have any doubt.

The work to fix this was not all easy, but it has made a tremendous difference!

I hope this was helpful,

First, it is SO critical for kids to have stability with their school and home. If your child has been to more than three schools and isnt' done with elementary school--it really does contribute to stress, self-estreem issues, socialization issues, etc. I teach 12/13 year olds, and honestly, the kids who have moved frequently typically struggle with the curriculum, and have a very hard time getting caught up. I had one girl who had been to 7 schools by the time she was in 7th grade. She had just given up because she said by the time she figured out how a school "works" her mom would move again. If it's possible to stop the pattern of moving, please try for your son.

Second, you need to take him to his pediatrician--ask for an appointment with some "conference" time built into it so you will be able to lay out the patterns from his school. I have several students who are diagnosed as ADD/ADHD and you would never guess it to just look at them... you would need to sit and wait for them to get themselves organized and watch them work to actually see the challenge. In one class alone, I have two boys that are doing similar things to what your child's teacher has said your son's behavior is. I'm NOT saying your child has an attention issue, but it is something you need to investigate further with the help of his doctor.

Also, keep in the communication loop with his school. It sounds like his teacher is willing to document his behavior, and that could be helpful for the pediatrican or a specialist if you get referred. Ask the teacher if the school psychologist can take a look at his situation, maybe there is a learning issue with math for him?

Good for you for being proactive about it now! It is something that with your work, the teacher's work, and the help of his doctor, you can come up with some kind of plan to get him through this! Stay positive!

Maybe he is just bored. My son is very bright - in the accelerated program - but always tried to get the bare minimum done. He does much better now that he is in a more difficult program. You may want to try getting him tested if your school district has a program for accelerated learners. You also may want to try getting him some challenging workbooks and see if he gets them done any faster. The Children's Bookshop (in Kent, Puyallup, Burien, Lynwood) is a great resource for educational materials.

Hi S.. I was just like that as a kid. My parents were always frustrated. They tried everything and frankly, nothing worked to get me to focus. So I cannot give you suggestions on how to get your son motivated. But perhaps I can give you some insight from the other side.

As a child, it didn't bother me that I didn't accomplish certain tasks or "meet goals", even tho it bothered my parents and teachers. But I was learning and thinking and creating all the time. It just wasn't in the linear, structured way that most schools teach.

I struggled in school until college (yes, they let me in!) when I could choose my classes and had more say in how I learned the material. My degree is in a field that is a good fit for my right-brain way of thinking. As an adult, I have learned how to be organized so it is possible to learn those life skills that do not come naturally.

My suggestion on how to help your son is to work with him on character issues like learning to be responsible, loving and thoughtful of others. You are already doing all you can to see that he keeps up in school and it sounds like he is learning, even though he doesn't seem focused. You can count that as a success!

S.- I feel your pain…particularly your sons pain (my mother would really relate to you, she was also frustrated with me to no end!....we both were.). I also moved schools in town at this same age and it did a number on me academically. I basically lost an entire year to adjusting to this “non-significant” move. This was a difficult age to deal with any sort of change. Looking back at this situation through adult eyes, I was simply too distracted with the entire adjustment. At that age, so much change is already going on socially, emotionally, physically, basically- developmentally, that I had no motivation to focus on school work. I was too busy thinking and adjusting to life in general. Something to be encouraged about is that it didn’t follow me into the next year as significantly as it did my first year at the new school. Also, my lack of focus did not set me behind my peers academically. Like your son, I was also in contact with my previous friends, and even knew a few friends at the new school, but that did not help me to focus on my school work. I too just sat in my chair and accomplished nothing. I was behind in every subject and was not able to really understand what my own problem was. I realize that it is completely against the grain, but don’t allow this short time in his life to define the next few years or his future for that matter. This time will soon pass and he will most likely once again be able to achieve academically. I, like a few others who have posted, didn’t really blossom academically until college when I was able to study what really interested me. I got my best grades of my career in college. Who’d have guessed! I hope this is somewhat encouraging for you. Good luck!

My daughter went through a lazy streak in school, and as bad as it sounds, sometimes we need to allow them to fail and pay the consequences. Tell your son that if he fails his classes, he will be grounded with no TV or phone until he brings up his grades. Then ask his teachers for weekly progress reports. Once his grades come up, give back one privilege at a time.

I agree with the statements below. ADD and ADHD kids can focus when they want to. Key word being want. But I have the feeling this has more to do with the moves.
I would put a point system in place where he can earn points (points=money) when he puts forth an effort. We do this for my son and it has worked tremendously. We learned this system at Sylvan. You can even have the teacher give your son points that he brings home to you to add to his home points.

I don't know but it sounds to me like he is not being challenged enough in his school work..are some subjects easier for him....like math or science??? I have done day care for many years and have a 10yr old I've had for 9 yrs...in 1st grade he did 2nd grade math. I got a 3-5gr cd for the computer and he could get most answers before they even came up on the screen...but words just don't seem to make sense to him. I also have a 7yr old I've had for 5 yrs...she reads at a 2nd grade level but just can't seem to untangle numbers. She's a whiz on the computer...go figure.....You might have him tested at a higher grade level and see how he does...dyslexia and dyscalculus are real problems for some children...out of my own 6 children 2 got A's and B's effortlessly 3 worked for B's & C's and 1 son still can't read above a 4th gr level..he's 51yr.
One of my granddaughters went to a school where they had "Paces" and could do 5th gr math; 6th gr reading and 4th gr subjects she didn't excel at but could hold her own while in 4th gr.She finished high school with a .40 grade avg;went to college and got a .40 (all A+'s). The computer for the kids does NOT have ISP but I download things to a cd and put them on theirs when I find something I think they can do.
Your son appears to be bored with the whole education system; he needs to be challenged more.
I hope you find the means to help him....

Good Luck, S.,
C. Hamlin
Cave Junction OR>

I just wanted to say that I think it is horrible he is having recess taken away. Exercise is so important to all levels of development. I would personally ask the teacher to stop doing that. Have you tried sitting down and doing the homework with him, step by step? That might be all he needs, a one on one tutor. Good luck!

Boys are different than girls in their learning style and attention span. That has been my eye opener in raising my son - who is nearly 14 now. Most boys require a more creative approach to homework. Plus, they are motivated more by positive reinforcement -- like keeping a chart, setting a goal to go somewhere or do something he really likes. My son rebels if we give him the "taking away" utlimatums. Alternately, he has really stepped up to the plate when we offered guitar/lessons for getting certain grades and projects done well. Also - sounds like your son might be bored in class. Maybe he is highly capable and needs more of a challenge? Keep up the trying to figure him out -- every kid needs a parent on their side -- sounds like he does.

I am no expert but sounds to me like he is bored and needs something that is more interesting and "brain teasing" for him. Maybe the things he can conjure up in his mind are just more fun and interesting than the work in front of him and recess. You could talk to him about things he is really interested in learning about and then use that to help teach him his basic skills. For example, if he is interested in big trucks you could learn about them together, like the gross weights of the various trucks and the hauling capacities, etc.) and then create math word problems for him to solve and develop his math skills. Just an example. You can can also just take his current work and try to the rephrase the problems into something that has to do with the things he is interested in. If can you do it together then he will learn his skills, have more fun and feel that you are interested in his needs and desires.

I know it sounds time consuming but only you can decide if it will take any more of your time and energy to work with him than is takes to stand over him until he finishes the work he obviously doesn't want to do.

Good Luck!

I would like to suggest that you look into the possibility of small seizures. Your son could be "blanking out" and missing key points/information that makes it difficult for him to focus and complete work. My nephew was having the same problems and once he was diagnosed, he went on medication for about 2 years and is now seizure free and is getting straight A's and there is no problem with work completion, at home or school.

Good luck!

This situation must be very frustrating for both you and particularly for your boy.

My feeling is that this boy has some trauma related issues, among other things. Frequent moves can be traumatizing to some types of children. Poor diet(diet can either help or intensify trauma)can be traumatizing for some children. There may be many things going on here and somethings may be making the situation worse. If the boy is being punished by the school authorities for behaviors that are beyond his conscious control, he may develop anger issues as a complication. Then you mat have some very tough problems down the road.

It seems to me that this is an issue that goes beyond mother feedback and school counseling. This child may need some heavy duty intervention. And you need some solid answers and support.

I recommend a good child psychologist evaluation, a good physicians examination and a consultation with dietary/naturopathic people. I say "good" because you will need to find an insightful professional. We all know that all pros are not the same in training and/or commitment.

Labels like ADD/Aspergers are great for the pros to get a handle on the situations. Those labels may help you to see the commonalities with other kids. Ultimately, though, you need to have an understanding of your boy, and need to have various approaches at hand to apply for the mental/emotional and physical health of the child.

Please seek out help with your son.

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