4Th Grader Not Motivated to Do School Work

Updated on June 30, 2010
J.F. asks from Niceville, FL
19 answers

My son is a 4th grader and has started having difficulty completing his work during school hours. Typically it is because he is talking or just doodling. I really need to find a way to motivate and make him understand that this is unacceptable. It has gotten so bad that last week he got detention for not doing his work in school. He is extremely bright, but I don't think that the work is too challenging, I just think he is lazy. I have no desire to put him on any ADD medication. I would like any suggestions to fix this problem without it.
Thank you all!

What can I do next?

  • Add your own comment
  • Ask your own question
  • Join the Mamapedia community
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

So What Happened?

He hasn't been diagnosed with any type of Attention Deficiet Disorder, it is just the first response from other people I have talked to about this situation. I truly want to help him. We have made a ton of changes in the house recently, no tv during school week, no computer at all unless needed for school, we have taken his DSI and Playstation away, etc. I truly appreciate all of your support and suggestions. I will keep you informed on our progress. I am hoping that Spring Fever is all that it is!

Featured Answers



answers from Tampa on

Have you tried talking to him to see what the issue is? My neighbor had this issue with her son and I suggested to her to talk to the teacher and have the teacher send home extra homework when he didn't do his work in class. When he realized that if he didn't do his work in class he had to do it at home and did not have time to play or watch television it lasted about a week. He soon started doing his work in class so he could have free time at home. It's worth giving it a try.



answers from Miami on

Hi, What I did was to find something that motivated them to keep working. Try a reward system. I have 4 with severe ADHD. My school used accomodations for the children. However, we needed a signed letter from their doctor stating that they had ADHD and how it impacted them in school. We asked for IEP's and had to get an Educational Advocate to help.

However, all 4 had to go on ADHD medicine. Their grades would suffer too much. With the meds, I have 3 that are Honor Roll. The 4th one is just catching up to 1st grade work. He has Autism as well. He is going to 2nd grade next year.

Good luck.

More Answers



answers from Altoona on

I can totally relate, although my son is in 3rd grade. Our son had issues with being "lazy" before, but it had gotten out of control. He would bring his homework home with doodles all over it, but not bring home the book he needed to do the homework! If he had a test to do in class, he'd breeze through the test and not show his work, but draw doodles on the test. Our solution was to talk with the teacher to see if there were distractions in the classroom, as well as how they decide where to put the children (the school is set up to help each child learn at his/her own pace). It turned out that was all it took. They reevaluated our son and put him in a higher "level" where he would have to work harder to earn his grades. Our teacher also started giving him the "bonus/harder" words for his spelling, and he started getting 100% on his tests. We were able to find out from the teacher when to expect certain homework from school, and when they generally would have the assignments due. His teacher really worked with us on initialing his assignment book so that we knew he had written in all the work that was due the next day. Our son still tries to rush through his schoolwork, and if it is very messy (even if it is already graded) we have him rewrite it once it comes home, and bring it back to the teacher so that she can see it.

I believe that kids will do only what they think they are expected to do. If you expect too much though, kids might give up because the task seems impossible. We found that being even more involved and "pushing" our son was what he really needed to succeed. You never know...your son might surprise you! Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

Good heavens! Medication is only appropriate if your son has been evaluated and diagnosed by a medical professional with ADHD. Are you ignoring an evaluation that has made you angry, or are you just assuming that those parents with kids who do take medication would give it to them at the first sign of trouble? You are not doing your son any favors by takeing a hard line attitude with a poor understanding of one fo the causes of what you are seeing and a black and white dismissal of a (far off) but potential cause.

That said, kids don't generally become "lazy" without some cause. Since I work as an educational advocate, I see many kids who are branded as "lazy" and I have to say, for 99.99% of them who are evaluated, there is a cause, and it is not always ADHD, and many need no medications.

4th grade is a time that many kids become overwhelmed by visual demands. The first thing I suggest to parents whose kids have a sudden problem is that they find a developmental optiomitrist (call the nearest children's hospital's occupational therapy department for a referal.) This kind of optomitrist can check for accuity (how well he sees) and how well he uses his eye muscles and how efficently he processes visual information. This will cost you no more than a regular eye exam, which he needs anyway. You may feel really badly if he is not just lazy.

Read "The Myth of Laziness" by Dr. Mel Lavine. he has many explainations for why kids suddenly seem lazy. If you could help him, wouldn't you want to?


1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Do you think he just might be having "Spring Fever" and ready for school to be out ? I know alot of kids at this time of year (my 4th grader is one of them :) are just tired of the routine and school, ready for a long break and tired.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Mansfield on

I understand your statement about ADD and medication. Instantly when a child is doing poorly in school someone will suggest ADD or ADHD and medication. I also understand the laziness aspect. I have a 5th grade boy who is also unmotivated. Let me ask you this...what happens when his work is not completed? Is it homework? I know you said he got detention but on a day to day bases what happens? How does he react to the outcome of the situation? Is he willing to have extra homework that he didn't complete in class so he can daydream and/or talk? Any punishment for talking while supposed to be working? I assume there would be because that is causing another child to not get their work done also.
What motaiates your child at home? Set short term goals and give many rewards often for small accomplishments at 1st. Say something like every day you get all your inclass work done this week you will get X reward. My son loves video games and is very limited to the amount of time he can play and only on weekends.... so for every 15 minutes of serious studying (not faking it) for spelling (his most difficult subject) he earn extra game time on the weekend. For good grades on said tests he earned money which he could use right away to rent a game or save to buy one he really wants to own. He is much more short term goal oriented so he loved earning a few extra hours of time and one game rental each week. Only once did he save for one he really wanted. Once the habits were formed and the grades improved the standards got higher or the goal to earn the reward changed. So he may not earn as much video game time as he first did for sudying the same amount of time. He had to study longer or recieved the reward occasionally(he never knew when) so he kept working hard. We did this for several years.... now his reward is only for the grade and not every A or B gets one. He is starting to fall out of habit with this so we may have to start up the short term rewards again for awhile. Once he is consistantly getting work done 4-5 days a week. Make the goal harder, and the reward maybe alittle bigger but still equal or lesser than the every day reward. Does this make sense?
Some kids do not respond as well to punishment for poor choices or unacceptable behavior as they do for rewards for good choices and behavior. Although I would continue to talk to him about the importance of getting the word done..... if there have been punishments for his bad behavior that are not working rather then getting tougher.... switch your perspective. Talk to him, find out why he isn't getting his word done. Maybe instead of it being too hard it is too easy for him and he is bored. My 1st grader acts up when her work is too easy unless given another more challenging task somewhere else.
Is he lazy about other things as well or just getting work done in class on time? Boys minds work differently then ours and girls minds do so it is sometimes hard to make sense of what they are doing, thinking, why they are acting a certain way etc.
Good luck- hope this helps :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Does he have ADD????

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Albuquerque on

Have you ever thought of homeschooling? Many kids don't fit the mold demanded of them for institutional learning. In order for one woman to keep the peace and teach anybody anything in a classroom with 20-30 other kids, they have to demand the same thing of everybody in the room. This means you must learn at the same pace, in the same manner and by the same methods as everyone else. If you brought him home you could teach to HIS learning style not the teacher's teaching style. You could tailor his curriculum to challenge him at his strengths and tutor him in his weaknesses.
If this isn't an option. Have his eyes and hearing tested. If he can't see the board or hear the teacher, he'll act up or tune out to cover the deficiency.
Best wishes,



answers from Orlando on

I agree with the posts that suggest having your son's ocular vision checked. Third and Fourth Grade is when school work changes from teacher verbal instructions (auditory) to more self directed, more reading work. After months of evaluations and medications, herbs, and diet changes we discovered that my son's eyes were not working well together and he would get headaches and fatigue from reading silently. We have him in a specialized program in Orlando- Learntolearn.com and I wish I found this place months ago!!!! We might still need to have him tutor for the things he missed in third grade but we are resolving the source of his problems- without medication!!!


answers from Orlando on

I know how you feel.

I have my children on a natural product for ADD - write me privately if you'd like more info.

Hang in there - we are here for you!



answers from Kansas City on

I homeschooled an ADHD child without medication. It was difficult but we managed. Now I have a 4th grader again that may be ADD without the H. She also is unmotivated. I wonder if it's partly the age. They are beyond the basics and not yet embracing the harder work that requires more in just about every way.

What my daughter and I do is change things up as often as possible. As long as I change her curriculum in a BIG way every few weeks she doesn't do too bad. I wonder if your school has any way to get him out of his funk? Of course he's bored. It's almost the end of the year!

We talk a LOT about what she needs to do and why. We talk about her future and I tell her stories of her sisters at this age. It will pass.

Try not to make too big of a deal out of it now. But talk a lot about next year and try and pump him up to do better.



answers from Orlando on

At first, I saw all these answers mentioning ADD, and I was thinking-- for goodness sake! He's a 4th grade boy! They all have a short attention span!! But apparently his is "worse" than the other boys in his class if he got detention for it.... so I was thinking if he IS "diagnosed" with ADD, then the teacher will HAVE to give him modifications, like give him tasks in smaller chunks, put him in a spot in the room where he is least distracted, etc



answers from Tampa on

I have the exact same problem with my 4th grade son, except that he is homeschooled, so it gives me a few advantages. But regardless, I have found that positive reinforcement has so far been the best way to motivate him. I tell him that his behavior of not getting things done is unacceptable. But I also accentuate the good things he has done. I give him rewards to look forward to as well as immediate rewards depending on if he has done them in the past. What I mean by that is I try to give him immediate rewards for the first time he does something correct. Once he does I give him a long term reward for continuing to do so. Once it is a habit, I move on to something new. But know that you are not alone. I think it is typically a boy trait and something we all deal with. Don't get discouraged, you just have to find the right movtivation that works for him. Good luck.



answers from Miami on

This is shouting learning disability to me. Check for Auditory Processing Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder and core/trunk strength as being reasons why he daydreams. OT can help alot but you need to get him to an audiologist who specializes in APD.



answers from Roanoke on

We have been going through the same thing with our 4th grader(my step son) while, there are some other issues there-inconsistency between his mother and my husband etc. He has been acting the same way in school. We begged his mother to crack down as he is with her during the school week and she didn't. We cracked down, grounded him from toys, video games etc. but, made sure he was getting plenty of exercise helping with yard work, playing outside, going for walks and runs. This has helped some. He brought his grades up on his last report card and gets the message that if he doesn't do what he is supposed to/expected to and capable of at school then he doesn't get to play and do what he wants to at home when it is time to play. Good luck. I really think this is a hard age for boys! We have also had a hard time with him choosing to make poor(the wrong decisions), following other children that are bad influences/making poor choices and being disrespectful to his teacher.



answers from St. Louis on

My first question would be has the teacher exhausted all avenues? Move his desk to the front or away from distracting posters and his friends. Some kids just need a gentle nudging. I agree that if this just started, it could be the end of the school excitement. When you mention ADD medication,is that because he WAS diagnosed with this? If he was, most schools deal with this differently. My nephew has ADHD and his school is required to alter his education to help him deal with this. They are required to give him several short brakes which help him refocus.
If you really do think it's from being lazy then I suggest you get firm with discipline at home. He should not be having computer time, video games, phone or extra activites is he can not get his work done.
I would though, make sure it is laziness and not medical related before I hand out punishments. Have you talked to his teacher, and can she offer any ideas as to why the change in behavior?



answers from Tampa on

Ask him if there is a word in what he was studying that he didn't know the meaning of. This worked for us with our second daughter- if she didn't know then I would ask what she'd been studying and then go thro it w/ her asking defintions until we found it. That is a barrier to study. There are others, and if interested send me a private msg and we can go from there.

Also make sure he isn't eating any sugar. Very important.

best, k



answers from Charlotte on

J., you're putting the cart before the horse. Have you had him evaluated for anything? Has he seen a speech therapist for a receptive language evaluation? Have you taken him for an ADD evaluation? Martha's recomendation regarding a developmental optometist who specializes in accuity issues is a good idea - just be careful who you see. (Some of them tell every parent their child needs it, and not every eye doctor considers this issue valid, I'm sorry to say (I've met some of them.)

If you find a problem, medication is not the first answer. It should never be the first answer. Accept an IEP if you have the recomendation from your specialist, and the team approach to help him be more motivated while you work through this will make a big difference.

Don't be afraid to start working on this. You don't want 5th grade to tank, you really don't.

All my best,



answers from Portland on

His work could be too easy/boring/pointless. I nearly flunked 34d grade, was tested by the school, and put into advanced classes.

I have two thoughts that might help. First, there are a couple of great book that might help both you and your son identify his issues. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk. You can read a sample here: http://www.amazon.com/How-Talk-Kids-Will-Listen/dp/038081.... Also Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman. Studies show that children whose parents practice "emotion coaching" are more physically healthy and emotionally resilient, less affected by stress, perform better academically, and are less likely to develop behavior problems.

Second, a lot is being learned about motivation in children. Labeling your son to his face as lazy or lacking in desire to succeed will more than likely, or telling him you know he can do it if he only tries harder, will both work against his internal motivation. Google motivation in children and related terms for loads of information, including this link:


Next question: 12 Year Old Stubburn No Care in the World Child