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Task Avoidance Behavior in Children

By Brenda Scottsdale ; Updated June 13, 2017

Some children avoid new, challenging or uninteresting tasks, and while it might at first appear that your youngster is just being lazy, there is often an underlying reason for her lack of action. Children who avoid tasks do not develop the necessary skills, knowledge and abilities needed to succeed in the adult world. Fortunately, if you can look deeper to see the underlying cause and act sensitively to the reasons your child is avoiding tasks you can often effectively counteract these destructive actions.

Suffering Self-Worth

Children who habitually avoid new or difficult tasks often have low self-worth. Because they lack confidence, they are intolerant of their own mistakes, do not see themselves as effective problem solvers and are defensive when given feedback. Children who feel they will not succeed are debilitated from trying new and challenging activities. You can help to build your child's sense of self-worth to increase attention to a task by praising her for all of her successes and for every effort she puts forth toward a new and challenging task.

Fear of Judgment

A child avoids completing challenging or difficult tasks if he is fearful he will be criticized or negatively judged by others or himself. A child who habitually avoids tasks develop fears that authority figures will negatively evaluate his performance so he avoids the task to avoid the criticism. Employ a system of self-monitoring, where your child is taught to periodically assess his own progress to decrease these fears of judgment by others, increasing on-task behavior.

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Lack of Motivation

No one likes to do a task they find uninteresting, boring or pointless. While it might be difficult to maintain your child's attention on a task she dislikes, effective authority figures use task modification to increase on-target behaviors by alternating the disliked task with a task the child likes. A child who does not like working on math but likes reading about science, for example, switches to science after working on target on her math homework for 15 minutes.

Focus on Performance

When a parent or role model rates a child's performance on a task against that of his peers, some children will inevitably perform more poorly than others. Boys and minority students, in particular, are most detrimentally affected by having their work ranked against their peers. Children with parents who emphasize achievement and mastery tend to adopt these same standards for themselves, leading to avoidance behaviors. Place greater emphasis on learning, understanding and mastering concepts within a task, rather than on external performance standards, to increase on-task behavior. Focus on the process rather than the end product.

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