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The Psychological Origins of Child Negligence: Causes, Symptoms, and Implications

  • Post category:Disorders
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Child negligence is sometimes noticed as early as preschool age.

Signs of Child Negligence

A careless child is sluggish, lazy, without initiative, he does not accept any activities spontaneously, he expects encouragement and help from adults in everything, he does everything against his will, superficially and messily. If a child behaves in this way on all occasions, one should first of all think of some physical illness, or some defect, such as insufficient mental development. Only when these possible causes of child negligence are ruled out, we will look for their cause in the emotional characteristics of the child, in his attitude towards the environment, or in the process of the educator.

Physical Causes of Child Negligence

The psychological origin of negligent behavior is most indicated by the fact that the child is not always and in all situations equally sluggish and uninterested. If his laziness is the result of illness or defect, the child will be so in more or less every one of his activities. But more often it happens that a child is terribly slow, immobile, clumsy and superficial when he needs to do something for his toilet, get dressed, wash himself, comb his hair, when he needs to tidy up his toys, go to the store or do his parents some other favor.

Emotional Causes of Child Negligence

But that same child suddenly becomes very lively, active and enterprising when he is left to play or sent for sweets. In such a case, it is clear that this is not a disease, but negligence is an expression of the child’s negative motivation in relation to the environment. First of all, the child’s attitude towards work, towards the tasks that are imposed on him, towards any activity that is not an expression of his spontaneous desire, but represents the request of the educator, is negative. That is why children’s laziness is also a sign of a negative attitude of a small person towards adults.

Negligence in School

Negligence only comes to light when a child goes to school, although its causes usually start to work in the first years of life. But before going to school, most children do not have any permanent obligations. They are mostly played, and in the game they are mostly left to their own initiative and nothing specific is required of them. When he starts attending school, the child must get used to systematic work, to constant tasks, to a certain responsibility towards the school, to work discipline, to obligations in terms of accuracy, tidiness and the like. These are requirements that are completely at odds with the psychological characteristics of a careless child.

Psychological Characteristics of Careless Children

In conflict with them, the child shows his repulsive attitude towards constructive activity to an even greater extent. It does not care about its tasks, it “forgets” about them, it “cannot remember” what the teacher gave at school. Such a child accepts a job only when he is chased to it, when he shouts at him or threatens him with something. But in work he is slow, careless, interrupts work every hour, invents different needs (he is “hungry”, something “itches” him, he “has to” go to the toilet, etc.), only to be able to get away from work at least for a while. In addition, he is impatient, grumpy, irritable, gets tired quickly, loses interest for a while, is superficial, messy or does not try at all to think about the task and to solve it properly. It is quite clear that then the child’s success in school is also weak; but poor grades rarely encourage such a child to learn more diligently. They usually deprive him of even more motivation to work.

Child’s Attitude Towards Work

A careless child uses every opportunity to escape the supervision of the educator and to engage in play. That is why he is usually said to be frivolous, playful, not to understand his duties. It is normal for a school child to still play. But it is also natural that it establishes a certain balance between the love of play and the will to work, and that systematic learning increasingly replaces unsystematic, spontaneous play. In a careless child, such a balance is not established. It never spontaneously accepts work, but works only under duress when the supremacy of the educator breaks his resistance.

Careless Children’s Relationship with Adults

Play is in itself a useful activity of the child; it is a preparation for work, its forerunner, but it is not a full-fledged replacement for it. If a child who has grown up with systematic learning and productive activity replaces work with play, then it is a sign of his emotional immaturity, the gap between his biological and intellectual maturation, on the one hand, and character maturation, on the other.

Negligence in Adolescence

The most severe forms are taken by negligence at a young age; it can grow to reluctance, to a lack of interest in any useful activity. Young people of both sexes are formed who are mostly indifferent to the basic values ​​of life, who have no ideals, who are lazy, superficial, bored, do not know where to go with themselves, what to accept, they are a burden to themselves. They sneak through school with little success, study indefinitely, are reluctant to accept jobs, and are prone to easy earnings and a parasitic life.

Negligent adolescents cannot learn or read; they have no goal in life, and their day passes spontaneously, without a plan, without real content. Careless adolescents are not carried away by anything; nothing can delight them. They try to make up for the lack of constructive content in their lives with shallow parties. They usually waste their time by idleness, attending worthless movie shows, “cheering” on football games, talking nonsense in a group of peers like themselves, then playing cards, drinking alcohol, and engaging in vulgar sexual endeavors. From there, it is not a long way to wander, to completely drop out of school or employment, to some kind of outbursts and “sceneless” behavior.

The Motives of Child Negligence

The older the adolescent, the greater his responsibilities, either at school or at work. If he has been burdened with a negative emotional attitude towards work since childhood, his reaction to the burdens will be more severe the higher they are. That is why the careless adolescent does not retreat before work only to play, like a child, or now to have fun ”; he retreats even further — into utterly worthless behavior. In the most severe cases, his rule becomes even antisocial; it turns into an active form, an attack on the environment that requires it to be a useful member of the community.

Lack of Independence in Child Negligence

The most common motive for negligence is lack of independence. Our respondents among school children who are careless at school, in most cases also show lack of independence (57% of boys and 100% of girls). When a child is too dependent for his age, he does not know and does not dare to accept any activities at his own risk and on his own strength. Faced with any task, such a child remains passive because he has no work habits. It is discouraged; it does not believe that it is capable of overcoming loads, it is convinced that it is not up to the task. That is why he is not trying to deal with him, but is waiting for the help of adults.

With his laziness, impatience, lack of perseverance in work, the dependent child shows that he considers every work too much of a burden for himself. At the same time, he expresses his fear of failure. He doesn’t believe he could achieve success, usually because he never even experienced it, because the educators didn’t give him a chance to do so. Convinced of the failure of each of his endeavors, he fears for his prestige, so he tries to avoid solving the task on his own rather than to expose himself to the risk of failure. With his slowness, his passive and disinterested attitude at work, his clumsiness and superficial solving of tasks, the child unconsciously wants to put pressure on his environment. By such behavior, he tries to show that “he can’t just,” that he must be helped in everything, that others are obliged to do his jobs.

The Consequences of Cuddling Children

Non-independence is a regular consequence of cuddling children. They become dependent when their natural aspiration to be independent is forcibly taken away from them, says Dreikurs. During one school year, we observed in the counseling center 57 cases of children (44 boys and 13 girls) who were brought to us due to pronounced lack of independence, either at home or at school.

Spoiled Children and Authoritarianism

In 50 cases, we found that these children were extremely spoiled. In most cases, the authoritative procedure and even abuse were grafted onto the initial pampering, most often at the end of the preschool period, ie at the beginning of school. In the remaining 7 cases, the children were brought up in a too strict way from the beginning or were emotionally neglected without prior caressing. From this one might conclude that perhaps authoritarianism is the educational process that is most responsible for the occurrence of non-independence in children.

Boys vs. Girls: Negligence in Male Children

We have already found that boys are spoiled more often than girls. From there, they are more often dependent. This is probably the main reason why negligence is more common in male children than in female children.

Symptoms of Non-Independence

Non-independent children often experience timidity and restless behavior at school. This shows us how much the dependent child feels threatened by the tasks set by both the family and the school. Restlessness during classes is a sign of “nervousness” of such a child, impatience, or mental tension because he is constantly in danger of being asked to do something, to solve a problem. Non-independence is accompanied by other symptoms of behavioral disorders, most often defiance, all the way to anger attacks. Of our non-independent patients, 18 boys and 3 girls showed this symptom.

The Relationship between Jealousy and Non-Independence

Sometimes a child becomes dependent when he is jealous. Then the lack of independence is an expression of the child’s unconscious psychological regression to an earlier level of emotional development. A jealous child sometimes starts behaving as if he is younger than he is. He wants to make the environment more interested in him, to pay more attention to him than he is currently doing. A young child has more direction than an older child to be served. With his lack of independence, the jealous child, burdened with a feeling of neglect, tries to convince the educators that he is still “small”, that he should be served at least as much as his young rival.

The Role of Authoritative Upbringing

Childhood independence and timidity usually have a common cause. It is an authoritative action of the educator that brings fear and anxiety into the child and hinders his initiative, deprives him of the opportunity to spontaneously approach an activity and affirm his personal interests. An overly strict child is often dependent because they have accustomed him to always listen only to others, that is, to do everything only on command, and nothing on his own decision.

Defiance and Revenge as Motivations for Careless Attitudes

But authoritative upbringing, excessive demands and abuse can arouse other motivations in a child for a careless attitude towards work and duties. It is first of all defiance, and then the need for revenge. Strict educators confront the child with his tasks in such a way that he always experiences a feeling of discomfort. His duties are presented in a rigid, commanding manner, with threats, sermons, and intimidation. This must provoke resistance; it most often manifests itself in such a way that the child shows less interest in an activity the more they are forced to accept it. The will for a job occurs spontaneously if experience teaches a person that he can find satisfaction in work. But the work associated with a number of unpleasant emotions – fear, boredom, feelings of inferiority, humiliation, etc. – must demotivate a person and lead him to a repulsive attitude. It is a natural law that applies to children as well as adults.

The Persistence of Laziness and Harmful Effects on the Child

A child’s resistance to work can also carry a component of revenge. An ambitious, vain educator usually cares most about being able to brag about his or her child’s success, especially his or her grades in school. That is why nothing can infuriate him so much as the negligence of his pupil. The child instinctively feels this; it sees through the motives of its educator and in his weaknesses finds the target of its attacks on him. Laziness, the alleged lack of any ambition, superficiality in work and poor grades in school are very successful means of revenge against a violent educator. The child finds in this a certain satisfaction for the tortures to which he is subjected by an authoritative educator. Unfortunately, in most cases, he does not realize his mistake, but continues and intensifies it, and even the child’s negligence becomes greater. When the need for refreshment arises in a young person, he is regularly stronger than his natural ambitions and innate inclination for constructive activity. That is why the child is more and more persistent in his laziness, although he also harms himself, inflicting constant failures and conflicts with the environment.

Negligence in Mentally Underdeveloped Children

A child’s negligence in work sometimes leads educators to think he is weak-minded. Indeed, a mentally underdeveloped child is often slow, lazy, uninterested in work if he is burdened with tasks he is not up to. Then negligence is an expression of his capitulation in the face of such burdens. But as soon as an intellectually retarded child is adequately employed, his behavior changes – he becomes more active, if the wrong upbringing has not emotionally damaged him.

Apparent Dementia in Children

There are, however, children who are not weak-minded and yet act as if they are dull, incapable of any intellectual work. Sometimes, even during the psychological examination of their intelligence, they achieve poorer results than their abilities with tests. Then we speak of apparent dementia.

Spoiled Children and the “All or Nothing” Mentality

Every time we meet children who behave carelessly, they are passive and disinterested, and yet they carry great ambitions. These are usually children who are used to being “the only one” at home, “first” in everything, always in the center of everyone’s attention.

In the family, cuddling automatically gives them a privileged position, so they don’t have to learn anything to secure it. When such a child comes to school, he wants to be first in everything there as well. But at school, such a position in the collective is not provided to him by itself. The child has yet to overcome it during the persistent competition with his friends.

That is why energy, endurance and hard work are required, and a spoiled child lacks these qualities the most. Now the child finds himself in conflict with himself. It expects supreme success from itself and cannot be satisfied with mediocre; but he does not find the strength to achieve mediocre success either. Since he cannot achieve “EVERYTHING”, he gives up every attempt and does nothing. This “all or nothing” becomes his motto in relation to life’s activity. If we do not help such a child to acquire a more realistic attitude towards himself and his tasks, he will, even when he grows up, take with him the belief that he must always be “on top”; if it cannot be, it remains passive, so it remains so for a lifetime.

Objective Difficulties in Learning

A child’s negligent attitude towards learning is easy to understand when he suffers from objective difficulties in mastering the teaching material. In addition to the already mentioned mental retardation, it is also deafness or low vision, dyslexia and dysgraphia, left-handedness, stuttering and the like. If such disturbances are not noticed in time and the child is not helped to overcome them, constant failures will accumulate in the experience of oneself.

This will sooner or later discourage him and deprive him of motivation to work. The feeling of one’s own immaturity to a task must distract one from doing that job and deprive him of any interest in it, because success is the only full-fledged motive that supports a person’s motivation for any longer-term activity.

Negligence in Emotionally Neglected Children and Youth

We also encounter negligence in emotionally neglected children and youth. She has a complex motivation. The negligence of a child growing up without emotional warmth is partly due to his general passivity and emotional poverty, partly an expression of lack of interest in many life values ​​and general skepticism towards life, partly a symptom of deep discouragement and very stunted self-confidence. Due to such a deep and complex motivation of their negligence, it is very difficult to get emotionally deficient children out of their reluctance and encourage them to constructive activity.

Case Study: Eddy

Our patient Eddy was born into an artistic family – from the painter’s father and the actress’ mother. He was the youngest of three children – a long-awaited son. The sisters who were quite older than him got married and left home when Eddy was still a child. Until then, his parents had been extremely fond of him and assumed everything in their daughters, who were jealous of their brother because of that, so they left their parents’ home as soon as they were given the opportunity to do so.

Then the parents began to see in Eddy the only bearer of the artistic tradition in the family, which had to be continued at all costs. Even before puberty, the boy had to learn to paint, although he had no interest in it. He was interested in technical activities, engines, appliances. But his parents did not allow him to “waste time on such nonsense.” When the boy became interested in sports, they forbade him to do so “because he will get rough from sports, and he must keep the sensitivity of an artist”.

The boy had to dedicate all his free time to painting with his father’s endless sermons on the greatness of art, on the need for hard work and sacrificing himself for art. It was an indescribable torment for the boy. He had to do what didn’t appeal to him at all, and he had to give up everything that made him happy. Understandably, he vehemently hated painting. He continued to paint her under the pressure of the authoritative father’s threats and the oaths and pathetic scenes of his neurotic mother.

But the young man was lazy, comfortable, and spoiled. Even at school, he barely made it through negligence, so he didn’t invest all his abilities in painting. There he did not show even the little painting talent he probably possessed. To the astonishment of his parents he acted like a utterly untalented painter; he worked superficially, roughly, without imagination.

He was sent to a school for applied arts, which he never finished. He was later enrolled in an art academy, but remained an uneducated artist there as well. They enabled him to study abroad, but Eddy returned from there with unfinished business. Then the young man’s father died, forcing him to pursue an artistic career for years, ignoring his interests, ignoring his weak artistic talent, not seeing in Eddy’s laziness, superficiality and misunderstanding “his father’s instructions” his silent resistance to hard work and parental ambitions.

Eddy got a job as a cartoonist in a company. He was left with a relatively poor qualification. He did not become an artist, and now he does not have the energy to accept the study of technique that once interested him a lot. He is too lazy for that, although he does not admit it to himself, but justifies his reluctance with supposedly objective reasons.

The young man is dissatisfied, considers his life a failure, and does not find the strength to change it. At work, he gives himself the minimum he has to give in order to receive a salary, and in his free time he is bothered by boredom, retreats with company in pubs, here and there he enters into a transitory, superficial love affair that leaves him bitterly disappointed and – drinks. All this deepens his sense of his own failure, pushing him into the growing emotional tension that manifests itself in various neurotic ailments. Because of them, he came to a psychiatrist.

Preventing Child Negligence

Means of preventing child negligence should be sought in the generally correct upbringing of the young person, in adapting to his individual characteristics and in avoiding all wrong actions. No specific recipes can be given to remove child and youth negligence. The young person should be treated as a whole, fit in or at least mitigate the negative influences of the environment on him and subject him to the most correct educational procedure.

In addition, psychotherapy is needed, especially when it comes to older children and youth. The young man should systematically develop interest and tirelessly encourage him.


Negligence in children and youth is a complex issue that can stem from various underlying causes. Educators and parents must be attentive to the individual needs and characteristics of each child to prevent negligence and encourage constructive activity. Through proper upbringing, psychotherapy, and encouragement, young people can overcome their negligence and reach their full potential.