Task Avoidance Behavior in Children

by Sara Ipatenco

    One of the most frustrating conditions for a parent is when children refuse to do what they've been asked to do. In some cases, children avoid certain behaviors because they lack self-esteem or self-worth. While your child will sometimes try to get out of unpleasant chores, if she doesn't want to try anything new or refuses to do something without help, considering making an appointment with her doctor to get to the bottom of the issues causing her avoidance behaviors.

    Task Avoidance Definition

    Though the term task avoidance makes many parents think of the times when they must argue with their children to get them to pick up their toys or put their dirty clothes in the hamper, true task avoidance is something different. Task avoidance is defined as purposefully avoiding a certain task because a child fears it's too hard or can't be done without parental help. Laziness plays a small role in task avoidance when children don't want to do something because they don't feel like it's easy enough or if they just want mom or dad to help them get it over with more quickly. However, laziness in general is common among children and shouldn't be confused with true task avoidance.

    Causes

    Many children who have parents that do everything for them develop task avoidance behaviors because they've never been told they are capable of doing certain actions on their own, such as getting dressed, learning new math facts or making themselves lunch. In other cases, task avoidance occurs because a child has a low self-esteem or lacks strong feelings of self-worth, according to a study from the University of Michigan. Fear of failure or of something bad happening, such as a poor grade or an injury, is another reason why many children engage in task avoidance behavior, according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies.

    Treatment

    Build your child up by praising her and complimenting her efforts and achievements. One of the easiest ways to build self-worth and self-esteem is to talk to your child about what makes her special. As your child starts to feel better about herself, she should be more willing to try new tasks and take on new challenges. Don't jump in all the time to do tasks for your child. Encourage her to do tasks on her own so she'll start to realize that she's capable. You might also make a list of goals with your child. Ask her what she would like to try on her own and make a plan that allows her to work toward reaching her goal.

    Tips

    Make trying new tasks more entertaining. For example, set a timer when it's time to tackle a new chore, such as folding laundry, and see how quickly your child can get it done. Turn new tasks into a game. If your child's chore is to sort the recycling, set the tubs up and let her throw each item in as if she was playing basketball. Of course, this wouldn't work with glass, but it can encourage her to sort paper and plastic. Always congratulate your child when she tries something new, which will make her feel proud and will encourage her to repeat the behavior in the future. If nothing seems to decrease your child's task avoidance, make an appointment with her doctor to determine additional strategies.

    About the Author

    Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.

    Photo Credits

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