Imagine this scenario: You walk into the kitchen and find your child with ADHD sitting at the table texting with friends instead of doing what you asked—unloading the dishwasher. You’re instantly annoyed. This is your child’s only regular chore, and you’ve given multiple reminders to get it done.
And it’s not just chores—the same thing happens with homework and other tasks that take effort and aren’t much fun. You can’t help but think that maybe your child is just being lazy. Unfortunately, others may think that, too.
“Just try harder”: How the myth of laziness impacted a child with ADHD.
People often mistakenly see kids with ADHD (also known as ADD) as being lazy. That can include parents, family members, peers, and teachers. Of course, kids with ADHD can sometimes act out of laziness, just like other kids (and adults). But it’s a myth that they consistently don’t do chores or schoolwork because they don’t want to put in the effort.
Learn why kids with ADHD may be mistakenly labeled as lazy.
The ADHD Brain and Seeming “Lazy”
It’s not uncommon for kids who learn and think differently to avoid doing schoolwork. The tasks involved may be hard for them and stressful. But kids with ADHD have additional challenges that can keep them from tackling work.
Kids with ADHD struggle with a set of mental skills known as executive function. These skills are responsible for many things, including:
Organizing and planning
Starting tasks and staying focused on them
Keeping track of what you’re doing
Unloading the dishwasher might seem like a simple chore. So if your child doesn’t do it, it can seem like your child is “just being lazy.”
But in fact, unloading the dishwasher is a multi-step process that requires many executive functioning skills—including remembering to do it at all. When you consider what goes into the process, it’s easier to see why a child with ADHD might have difficulty doing it.
Starting a new task also requires being able to break away from what you’re doing at that moment. Kids with ADHD have difficulty switching their attention from one activity to another. That even includes going from one fun activity to another fun activity.
Now add in the fact that work isn’t usually stimulating to the brain. It takes self-control to walk away from an enjoyable task to a boring or difficult one. Imagine having trouble switching gears to begin with, and then being asked to move from talking with friends to tackling a challenging chore that requires skills you lack.
It’s not a problem of willpower. Completing tasks like these requires a lot of skills that kids with ADHD naturally struggle with.
Anxiety and Avoiding Tasks
Kids with ADHD can experience stress more than kids who don’t learn and think differently. And ongoing stress can lead to anxiety, which is common in kids with ADHD. If the task in front of them creates stress or a fear of failure, they’ll naturally want to avoid it.
This isn’t laziness. It’s self-protection. And that’s a common reaction for all people, with or without ADHD.
A child with ADHD might race through homework, walk away in the middle of doing it, or not even try at all because of executive functioning issues. But worries about having to struggle through it and doing poorly can make the problem worse.
How to Help Your Child
There are a number of ways to help kids with ADHD take on the challenges of work, even if they don’t want to.
Break down tasks into smaller chunks, whether it’s a chore or an assignment.
Give enough time for your child to switch gears from one activity to the work at hand.
Only assign one part of a task at a time—and write that “assignment” down for your child.
Try not to criticize. Praise the effort, even if it doesn’t meet your expectations.
Provide positive consequences or rewards. Kids with ADHD often need incentives to keep working.
Tailor chores to what your child can actually handle, even if the tasks seem “too young” or “too easy.”
Manage your expectations. No matter how smart your child is, having ADHD makes it harder to get things done.
If your child takes ADHD medication, see if there’s a pattern of when your child doesn’t seem to be making an effort. (You can keep track of patterns with an ADHD medication log.) It may be that the medication needs adjusting. If your child doesn’t take ADHD medication, talk to your child’s doctor about whether it could help.