Monday, 15th July 2024

Monday, 15th July 2024

‘There are no lazy children, only parents making them do what they dislike’

31 May 2024

Imran Johri couldn’t believe it when his golden girl of a firstborn started to slow down in school. The father of three goes on a quest to find the best way to motivate his child, and suss out what was holding her back.

Imran Johri is a part-time humour writer, full-time father of three who finds the lighter side to parenting every chance he gets.


Here’s one of the most difficult transitions my wife and I have had to make as parents – we went from the homework-free, no-exam days of Primary 2 to the introduction of weighted assessments in Primary 3.

This cautionary tale of expectation mismanagement, and the discovery of what intrinsic motivation means, began when our eldest child was born 11 years ago.

My wife and I were absolutely thrilled at the thought of the sheer innate potential that this gangly baby contained within her.     

Being highly enthusiastic first-time parents, we quickly went down the path of pricey educational toys and toddler swim lessons — heated pool, no less. The massive reference library I had been building was now ready to be unleashed upon this child.

During this hyper-enthused period of noob parenting, any display of child-potential was met with a resounding sign-up for anything and everything. She doodles? Art class! She moved to a beat? Ballet!

We thought we were cool like that.

We nurture for performance, admitted no parent ever

Those early days were bliss, as Bel displayed a delightful attitude towards learning in kindergarten. And when she got into our preferred primary school, we were absolutely gushing at ourselves. My wife and I endlessly shook hands and patted each other on the back as if we had won some parental tournament for primary school admission.

“We’ve done well, oh spouse.”
“Indeed, our children will not require any enrichment in the future.”

“Tuition? What even?”

Oh how naïve we were.

It was when we left the pre-school bubble that we started to notice changes. While Bel seemed happily engaged in class, she started to display a lack of enthusiasm in other areas.

For one, she began to exhibit an amazing propensity for hoarding documentation. What started as a messy table in her room, soon grew into a planet-sized mess that developed its own gravity, thereby amassing more random bits of paper.

And when our reminders turned into nagging, we realised all our pesky instructions were falling on deaf ears. When we asked her why she was so disinclined to manage her pigsty, the answer we got was a lacklustre, “I don’t know”.

No, no, no… is she actually lazy???

This got worse when she started Primary 3. Bel’s messy desk spilled over to her homework and other parts of schoolwork.     

When we received her first weighted assessment schedule, we assumed she would get straight down to revision, that the auto-accountability and diligence switch would flip in her head.

Alas, we assumed wrong. Messy desk, messy plans… In fact the only constant since then, were that all our assumptions about model student-hood had been  perfectly misguided.

Worse still, these assumptions did nothing in alleviating our disappointment as Bel then began to present consistently disappointing Maths scores.

We unwisely then decided to ramp everything up a notch. Me, being the productivity tyrant at work, thought it best to bring corporate insanity home, demanding for timelines and flowcharts that, of course, no child was ever going to produce, let alone keep up with. There were tears, lots of it. Our home environment became an unbearable, stressful exam hall of disappointment. We could not understand why she was struggling so much, despite the practice, the drilling, and especially, the pep talks.

Everything was culminating into a nine-year-old who was unmotivated, sluggish and just wanted to chill at home and doodle once in a while.

A terrible thought soon descended on us… is our precious role model of a firstborn…dare I say the four-letter word…. L-A-Z-Y?

Sorry about the over-reaction

As with most parental conundrums, a lot of clarity can be found in deep self-reflection. My wife and I had endless late-night discussions on everything from productivity hacks to even monetary incentives — but it was only when we looked back to ourselves as kids that we came to a deeper realisation.

My wife was a product of constant drilling by her parents and turned into the perfect mugger archetype – just set a test and she’d be ever ready to cram for it. But my daughter was nothing like that.

I, on the other hand, switched off when there was no incentive to the effort. It wasn’t laziness, it was just not seeing the point. So yeah – it’s all me. My daughter is now me.

We had to relook how to support our beloved firstborn. We conscientiously took the time to really try to understand what motivated her, or what was holding her back.  I think we’ve made some progress.

For starters, Bel had just started her new netball training programme, and was eager to pour all her energies into it. So we realised – better late etc –  that that was why she would come home looking tired.

Then we saw her lighten up when helping her peers with schoolwork or just chatting with them. She isn’t driven by grades or performance, she is driven by empathy, to get along well with others and show care for them.

There was also the cheerleading we did. When it came to schoolwork and all her sporting endeavours, we showed up for her pick-ups, drop-offs and home-cooked meals – the whole shebang, minus the nagging.

Thankfully, we saw a difference in her after we switched our perspective.

So while her room is still a massive avalanche of clothes, soft toys and bits of dislodged paper, we now have an inkling of what intrinsically motivates her: She seems to thrive on peer activity and concern. And like me, she automatically switches off when the wrong expectations are turned on.

So no, she’s not lazy at all. We’d been blindly projecting our vicarious expectations on her all this time. We just had to stop — and let go.