Apathy – not caring enough

Is your child losing their enthusiasm for school or seeming bored and disinterested in general? It could be the early signs of apathy. Put in place some simple strategies to nip it in the bud.

Apathy can be described as a state of indifference, and when anyone (be it parents or children) loses their passion or enthusiasm about things, it can have far-reaching effects.

Parents who develop an apathetic attitude towards life are not just damaging themselves, but run the risk of passing this attitude on to their children. Children in such situations can rightly ask themselves, “If my parents don’t care then why should I?” Once this mindset takes hold, it becomes very hard to break, both at home and at school. That’s why parents must ensure that, from an early age, they provide a positive role model for their children, to encourage them to stay interested, engaged and excited about life and learning.

Almost every child, regardless of their age, may go through periods of apathy and this can manifest itself in many different ways. Sometimes it may appear to be laziness or sluggishness, but passes quickly once the child makes new friends or graduates to a higher level (in reading or maths, for example). In other more serious, long-term cases, it can shift from a ‘don’t care’ attitude into depression or even despair, and will require professional help for both the parents and child involved.

But mostly, apathy will present itself amongst children as a disinterest or a dislike of school and learning. Learning apathy is quite common and as noted above, it will often work itself out as the situation changes.

Parents should be on the lookout for signs that their child is falling into the apathy pit. Cooperation and communication between parents and teachers is the best medicine for treating apathy. Like almost every other behaviour, apathy is best dealt with while it is a still an irritant, rather than a problem.

Some signs of apathy at school or in the learning process include homework that is poorly completed or not done at all. The child may start talking about school as being dumb, no fun, or even saying that they hate school. Avoiding homework and studying or coming up with reasons why they don’t want to go to school may be other signs. There could also be a tendency to not want to do anything on their own and this could even result in disruptive behaviour as they become frustrated or angry at the mildest provocation. Such behaviour could also be an indication of other kinds of problems, but if the teacher and parents are confident that apathy is at the root of the problem, then there are some effective strategies that can used to help the child rise out of their apathetic state.

The biggest cause of learning apathy is actually not boredom, but rather, lack of motivation, and the crucial intervention should be to encourage them to rediscover their individual motivation. The first step should be a discussion between parents and teachers to compare notes and develop a plan that will support and help the child resume their productive learning.

For younger children, the best thing that both parties can do is to provide positive support and encouragement until the child regains some of their own. Every success that they achieve, no matter how small, should be acknowledged and celebrated. They could have taken a knock to their self-esteem which is keeping them from active learning and if so, will need constant pats on the back to help them rebuild their self-confidence.

Older children might require more complex strategies that focus on helping to improve their attitude, while also providing them with concrete rewards for trying hard at their school work. Actually giving older children more responsibility for their own learning can pay off by creating a sense of ownership that will help them realise they have some real control over the outcome of their efforts.

It is also very important to recognise that while an apathetic attitude may cause a difficult period for a child in school or at home, in most cases this is just another phase of growing up and learning. As the child is helped to overcome this challenge, they will learn new skills and strategies that will not only help them to succeed at school, but in other aspects of their lives as well.

The biggest cause of learning apathy is actually not boredom, but rather, lack of motivation, and the crucial intervention should be to encourage them to rediscover their individual motivation.

Ages & Stages

Show patience, especially when they
are learning new things. Provide encouragement, particularly when the going gets tough. Give them variety because if they get stuck on one thing they could get frustrated.

5- to 8-years
Provide short-term tasks to show them they can succeed. Offer concrete rewards for completion of assignments at home or at school. Expose them to after-school activities to help them find something they have a passion for (this may take more than one try or activity).

9-to 12-years
Seek their input and opinions on issues at home and how they can best get their schoolwork done. Involve children in activities like music, drama and sport, or tasks at home, to create a sense of ownership. Support their chosen activities, to build their confidence and sense of pride.

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