Your Child Isn't Lazy and Neither Are You
Do you sometimes worry your gifted or twice-exceptional child is lazy? Many parents I work with worry about laziness. Although I understand parents’ worries, I don’t believe in laziness.
This article was originally published on 2eNews.com.
I believe people are innately driven to learn, explore, connect, and grow. And research suggests that we stay in touch with this innate drive to engage as long as our environment doesn’t shut it down too harshly, too consistently. Within this framework, “lazy” feelings or behavior indicate something is awry and needs attention.
In my experience, it’s common to discover that a gifted child who seems “lazy” is actually twice-exceptional and has ADHD, a learning disability, or autism. For example, parents may worry their child is lazy because the child seems careless about their work, unmotivated to do daily tasks, resistant to homework, only willing to do the bare minimum, or slow to get started on something new. It’s true that twice-exceptional folks often struggle to keep up with daily tasks and organizational demands, but it’s not accurate or helpful to refer to these behaviors or people as “careless,” “unmotivated,” “resistant,” or “unwilling.” These descriptions misconstrue a neurological characteristic as a character flaw and frame a disability as something willful and shameful.
I don’t know a single parent or teacher who wants to instill shame in their children or students, so why is this harmful narrative about twice-exceptionality so common?
I think the new book Laziness Does Not Exist by Dr. Devon Price helps answer this question. Dr. Price, who is twice-exceptional, writes about what they call the Laziness Lie, a pervasive and harmful belief system that implies that “hard work is morally superior to relaxation, that people who aren’t productive have less innate value than productive people.” They describe how capitalism, racism, and classism fuel our fear of laziness - not just for gifted or twice-exceptional folks, but for everyone.
Dr. Price argues that the Laziness Lie has three main tenets:
Your worth is your productivity.
You cannot trust your own feelings and limits.
There is always more you could be doing.
Briefly, here are some key points about each tenet:
Your worth is your productivity. In our culture, we tend to focus on what people do and accomplish instead of focusing on what brings them joy, passion, and a sense of wholeness. It’s seen as worrisome or shameful to be less “productive,” even when lessened productivity is due to disability, illness, or aging. Dr. Price argues that economic vulnerabilities and insecurities drive people to overwork to maintain a feeling of safety. Our culture often assumes that people must earn or prove their worth instead of every person having inherent worth as a human. Even people who are economically secure or who are students (such as high schoolers) feel pressure to take on more and more work to prove their worth and capacity.
You cannot trust your own feelings and limits. Dr. Price argues that “our economic system and culture have taught us that having needs makes us weak, and that limits are negotiable.” Many people take on more responsibilities than they want and ignore their need for rest because they fear that resting is a sign of laziness. This tenet relates to why people work even when they’re sick, why students pull all-nighters even though their work quality diminishes, and why some twice-exceptional people may be reluctant to use their accommodations, for fear that using support makes them weak.
There is always more you could be doing. As Dr. Price describes, “according to the Laziness Lie, a worthwhile person fills their days in ideal, industrious ways.” This perspective “encourages us to an impossible level of productivity.” This tenet shows up often in my work with gifted and twice-exceptional teens. Some of these teens spend hours doing homework for AP or IB courses, strive for their best work in all assignments, and manage a range of extra-curricular activities, all while worrying they aren’t doing enough. These teens’ parents are often confused - We don’t tell her she has to do all that! Why does she think she has to work so hard or get all A’s?
As Dr. Price shows in their book, these belief systems are pervasive in our culture. Even though I consciously disagree with the tenets - I don’t believe your worth is your productivity! - I recognized myself in the book’s examples again and again. I grew up being praised for my giftedness, and I can think of countless times I worked longer than expected and past the point of enjoyment to prove my worth and feel accomplished or good about myself. For bright people who excel at “productivity,” it may be tempting to chase good feelings from praise, awards, and high grades, even at the cost of emotional and physical well-being.
For twice-exceptional students who are bright but don’t feel “productive,” the Laziness Lie may be particularly harmful. These students are smart and have great ideas but may have a hard time translating their ideas into products valued by a culture focused on quantity, busyness, and specific forms of achievement like written reports and high test scores.
If you worry your twice-exceptional child is lazy or if they accuse themselves of laziness, consider the following possibilities:
The expectations are a poor fit. When a child or teen is gifted, it can be hard to remember that seemingly simple tasks like worksheets, studying, following a morning routine, organizing belongings, or daily hygiene might be extremely difficult to complete independently. In fact, twice-exceptional kids may struggle most with daily tasks and social interactions that neurotypical people perceive as inherently easy or simple but that rely on executive functioning or create unpleasant sensory experiences. Unfortunately, the Laziness Lie tries to convince us that these behaviors are moral failings instead of a natural part of human diversity. Check in with your own expectations for your child and their expectations for themselves - are the expectations coming from a fear of low productivity and laziness? Are the expectations appropriate for your child’s abilities and sensitivities?
Your child needs different support. What accommodations and supports are in place for your child’s challenges related to their disability? Needs often change as children develop and as their environments change. Think about what tasks or situations cause your child the most stress right now. Are some of these stressors related to their disability? Are there new appropriate accommodations to consider? For example, if your child is sensitive to sound and seems lazy or overwhelmed since returning to in-person school, you could consider accommodations that reduce sensory input and help them regulate during the day, perhaps by using noise-canceling headphones or working in a quiet location at times.
Your child isn’t using the supports available. It’s also important to consider the messaging around accommodations and supports. Is your child or teen encouraged to use these accommodations freely and with pride for their own self-advocacy, or are accommodations and supports seen as “cheating” or shameful? If the Laziness Lie is interfering with your child’s ability to self-advocate or with your ability to encourage their support systems, I highly recommend Laziness Does Not Exist to explore new ways of confronting internalized ableism.
Your child is overworked and burnt out. As Dr. Price writes about in their book, research on productivity shows there are limits to how much work a person can do, but our societal expectations are often much higher than those natural limits. (You may feel validated, for example, to learn that the 40-hour workweek is “still probably too long and demanding for most people” according to Dr. Price’s summary of the research.) Feelings of “laziness” are sometimes a sign that the “lazy” person is on the edge of burnout - that they are doing too much. In this case, laziness is a warning sign to make more time for rest, rejuvenation, and play.
Your child is underchallenged in their strengths. When a twice-exceptional kid is asked to do tasks that are too easy in an area of strength, their innate drive to learn and explore can wane - because there’s no opportunity for them to truly learn and explore. I think the Laziness Lie leads some educators to believe that all children must complete all tasks - as if doing a task is inherently valuable, even if the child has mastered the material and won’t learn anything. Sometimes providing more stimulating or challenging work in a child’s area of strength or interest can help a seemingly lazy kid feel excited and engaged in learning again.
Your child is anxious, sad, or stressed. If you’ve ever dealt with your own anxiety, sadness, grief, or stress - and I’m sure you have - you know that emotional distress can feel demotivating. When you’re distressed, activities may not feel fun anymore, and it’s more difficult to concentrate on anything. Unfortunately, expectations for productivity haven’t changed much amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been a stressful year for most kids and families, and coping with stress can look like “laziness” or a lack of motivation.
Your undiagnosed child may be twice-exceptional. Finally, if your bright child isn’t diagnosed as twice-exceptional and you often worry they’re lazy, I highly recommend you seek out a comprehensive assessment. In my experience, undiagnosed twice-exceptionality can be associated with shame - these kids and teens start to think they are lazy and irresponsible instead of differently wired and in need of new strategies or support. As Dr. Price wrote in their dedication for the book, “if a person’s behavior doesn’t make sense, it’s because I’m missing a piece of their context.” If your child’s behavior doesn’t make sense, an assessment can provide helpful context.
Parents of gifted and twice-exceptional kids, you might recognize yourself in this book too. Do you worry you’re lazy or not productive enough? Is your to-do list filled with tasks you feel you “should” do but don’t particularly want or need to? Do you find yourself working more than you want to or more than you’ve committed to because you feel pressure to perform or produce? A key take-away from Laziness Does Not Exist is that when you worry you’re not doing enough, you can probably blame this worry on the Laziness Lie. There is always more you could be doing, but that doesn’t mean there’s always more you should be doing. In fact, Dr. Price shows how trying to do too much often makes us unhappy and less effective.
Dr. Price encourages readers to combat the Laziness Lie - to work less, decouple their achievements from their worth, set boundaries with others, resist society’s “shoulds,” be comfortable not knowing something, and practice compassion with themselves and others. In the end, Laziness Does Not Exist is a call for a gentler, more compassionate, and more balanced perspective on our own worth and the worth of others. Dr. Price shows how compassionate curiosity can help us learn to stop associating productivity with goodness, honor our lazy feelings, and make time for rest, renewal, connection, and fun.
If you often worry your child is lazy and you'd like professional support thinking through new ways to support them, my parent consultation services might be a good fit. Each consultation is individualized to answer your most pressing questions. I’ll help you clarify your concerns, understand your options, and make a plan. Start by scheduling an initial phone call to discuss whether consultation would be a good fit.