First it was a pair of mittens and his hat. Then it was his lunch bag and homework. When my son left his winter coat at school in the middle of January, my frustration reached an all-time high. Sure, we all forget things sometimes, but frequent school visits to drop off lunches or pick up homework and rummage for clothing in the lost and found will test the patience of most parents.
In their book Good Behaviour, authors Stephen Garber, Marianne Garber and Robyn Spizman point to the fact that we often assume our children can suddenly be responsible for their belongings when they start school – even though we’ve been remembering everything for them up until that point. Instead, the authors advise helping children develop strategies to be more responsible over time.
Tamar Satov says her son Adam was always forgetful until she implemented ways to help him keep track of his stuff. Now everything in the house has a “home” and there is a common routine that Adam follows each day. When he comes back from school, for example, he always puts his hat/mitts on the radiator cover by the door. “So if the mitts aren’t on the radiator when he needs them, he’ll look for them because he remembers he’s supposed to have them,” she says.
Minimizing the number of things children have to remember is also helpful, says Tamar. When Adam kept losing his lunch bag, the Toronto mom started sending his meals in brown paper bags he could throw out. “I’d rather he remember his glasses to be honest, and the funny thing is, most of the time the brown bag now comes back.”
As the author of a blog for parents on raising money smart kids (cpacanada.ca/raisingmoneysmartkids), Tamar says getting children to pay for non-essential items with money they’ve earned can do wonders in curbing forgetfulness. “Adam saved up money to buy a Nintendo 3DS XL and there is no way he is leaving that behind anywhere,” she says. “Psychologically there is a big difference when you save for something and have to buy it yourself.”
But when strategies like these fail to keep your child from forgetting their things, there could be other factors in the way, such as lack of sleep, a poor diet or just too much on the go, says Dr. Nirit Bernhard, a consultant pediatrician at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. “Ask yourself if your children are overtired or getting too hungry at school,” she advises. As well, she says most kids have a lot on their plates these days with school and extracurricular activities, so parents should be looking for ways to make schedules less hectic.
In some cases, a child who continuously lacks organization may have symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), says Dr. Bernhard. “When it gets to a point where it is happening every day and starting to affect the flow of things at home and at school, that would be a good reason to see a doctor.”
Here are some tips to help with your kid’s memory:
- Make a routine your children can follow every day to form good habits, such as checking backpacks prior to leaving the schoolyard to ensure nothing is missing.
- Write down events/tasks in a calendar that your child can easily see every day, or have them write their own to-do list in a school agenda that you can monitor.
- Set expectations and hold children accountable. If they forget an important book, let them face the consequences of not completing their homework.
- Minimize the number of things they have to keep track of so they can focus on remembering some key things.
- Reward good behavior by complimenting your children when they do remember.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, Aug/Sep 2016.