I’ve been a tutor for 40 years, and I’ve never encountered a lazy student.

Scratch the surface of laziness and underneath you’ll find fear, confusion, frustration, lack of knowledge, lack of skills, anger, sadness…

And, often, just plain exhaustion.

Willpower is a limited resource, and the demands of the school day can drain a student of her ability to attend and persevere.

Arriving at the psychology center, participants in a study were enveloped in the luscious aroma from a huge platter of freshly-baked chocolate-chip cookies.

The lucky one-out-of-two college students randomly assigned to the Cookie-Eating Group were instructed to help themselves, but Please don’t eat any of the radishes…

Because that heaping bowl of bitter-tasting veggies at the other end of the table was reserved for the less fortunate other half of the participants.  Please eat at least three radishes. And, sorry, NO cookies for you. 

Students were left alone in the room, responsible for controlling their behavior. The Cookie Group had no trouble avoiding the radishes, but the Radish-Eaters tended to stare longingly at the cookies while they nibbled. To their credit, no Radish-Eater sneaked a cookie.

Having finished their snacks,  participants were then asked to work on a challenging (in fact, unsolvable) puzzle.

The Cookie Eaters persevered on the impossible puzzles for an average of 19 minutes before giving up.

But the Radish Eaters persisted for an average of only eight minutes.

Why? Because the Radish-Eaters burned up a ton of willpower resisting those cookies and then had less to spend in persevering on the difficult puzzle.

All day at school, your kid is a Radish-Eater, burning up willpower on academic tasks and obeying rules and reining in behavior. Many kids then arrive home with very little self-discipline left to apply to homework.

And if your child has ADHD, a LD, or any other learning challenge, the school day is tapping out her reserves of perseverance and self-control that much faster.

Kids don’t need lectures on fortitude or critiques of their character.

Instead, students often badly need understanding, encouragement, comfort and support. Simple gestures of kindness and help can make all the difference for a kid who does want to do his homework but who is running on empty in the willpower department.

(Do check out Dan Heath’s video explanation of Why Change is So Hard: Self-Control is Exhaustible)