Smart children who don’t try hard enough!

Frustrated parents are quick to place labels on their children, but sometimes the answers require breaking the stereotypes

Most parents in Greece place special importance on their children’s academic results. The majority of Greek parents have high expectations and low grades are often a reason for friction in families. A common complaint of parents is this: “Even though my child is exceptionally smart – the teacher agrees – he doesn’t try hard enough, doesn’t concentrate and lacks discipline”, “If only my child would try a little bit more and weren’t so lazy, her mind is always on playing, going out, flirting etc.”

Parents clearly see that there is no problem with their child’s intelligence and automatically blame the negative personal characteristics on other factors, such as irresponsibility, indifference, laziness, etc. They are angry with their child for not taking advantage of abilities and they maintain that “if he wanted to be a good student, he could be.”

My position is clear: If the child could, then that child would be good at studies. Personally, I’ve never met a child who wasn’t hurt and upset by failure to perform well at schoolwork, even though a majority of children manage to hide their negative feelings under a veil of indifference. Children learn to hide their weaknesses from a young age. I think that it is important for parents with children who are facing difficulties to understand that the indifference shown is nothing more than defence against accusations, advice and criticism received.

The reason why children may not go well has nothing to do with their intellect. It is possible that it may have nothing to do with the negative characteristics with parents rush to describe. The reason why some children don’t do well at school may possible have to do with emotional problems that the children and their parents refuse to see. These type of problems vary to a great degree and may come from a plethora of caues that require understanding. The problem is that parents rush to explain their children’s results through negative personal characterizations and lose the chance to explore and understand the root of the problem. They believe that the characterizations are enough to explain the program causing it to freeze and the bad relations between parents and children also freeze.

Sometimes I have wondered why we avoid exploring the problems and prefer instead to label our children. I have started to believe that the reason as to why parents turn to such techniques is to (subconsciously of course) to do away with their own resopnsibility for a situation that fills them with serious guilt. Parents in Greece have been raised with the diea that they are to blame for their children’s school results. Academic failure touches on sensitive chords and their own selfworth. For a parent to say that their child is smart but doesn’t try is something positive at first value and a way for the parent to say: “I’ve done my job by giving my child good genes, but if it is not in a position to use these, then it is not my fault.”

Unfortunately, the social system blames parents for their children’s academic results so it is normal for theim to feel guilt, to get defensive and to try and divert responsibility onto their children. They can see that they are in no position to help their children and feel like failed parents. This makes the situation even more frustrating. Unfortunately this creates a vicious cycle of anger and guilt for parents and children who often end up having family clashes.

In such cases, I advise parents to get rid of the CD with suggestions, criticisms and easy interpretations. I suggest they give their children space to express their own views, fears and emotions. My experience has shown that by saying that we don’t know why something occurs is the only way to find answers. For years, I’ve tried to help parents stop ruining their relations with children who have problems with schoolwork so that they can become allies. The truth is, I’ve seen that all that is needed in some cases for the children to overcome difficulties, is an ally, someone who can understand.

Do you have a problem that concerns you? Our resident psychotherapist Zeta Stravopodi is willing to address any personal matters. E-mail her on

Zoe Stravopodi-Gianno works as a psychotherapist and offers advice to individuals, couples and families. She also coordinates groups interested in achieving self-awareness and personal growth. In 2012, she established “Parents School” to give parents advice as to how to navigate the choppy waters of parenthood regarding the healthy emotional growth of their children.