Helping Your Forgetful Child Remember

Both parents and children can benefit from establishing consistent organization, planning and memory skills.

Mom! I can’t find my …" You fill in the blank. My daughter used to lose or forget something several times a day since she was able to pick things up and carry them off. It began when she was a toddler. Toddlers are always leaving things in strange places so I wasn’t worried at that point. When she first entered school, I assumed her forgetful tendencies were due to the fact that she was a kindergartner who was overwhelmed with new responsibilities.

However, when she entered second grade, then third, I was still hearing the exasperated call, "Mom! I can’t find my …" much more often than I cared to. I was beginning to envision more serious problems down the road — pleas to find her social studies report … her college applications … her engagement ring. Something had to be done before she lost something really important, or before her mother lost her mind.

Do you have a child who can’t hold on to her scarf, book bag or take-home papers? Does she forget to bring half of her belongings to school? I decided to garner some advice from the experts, hoping to encourage my daughter to become responsible for her own possessions.

The Parents’ Role

Parents who consistently forget things might not be setting the best example for their kids. On the other hand, parents who are obsessively organized (I fit into this category) and, therefore, always organize for their kids, are not doing them any favors either. Both parents and children can benefit from establishing consistent organization, planning and memory skills.

Gradually allow your children to take responsibility for their own remembering. In their book, "Good Behavior," Stephen W. Garber, Ph.D., Marianne D. Garber, Ph.D. and Robyn Spizman explain, "Children are especially susceptible to the forgetting and losing syndrome, a natural occurrence that is also maddening, time-consuming and expensive." They further state, "Parents usually remember everything for their youngsters before they reach 7. After that, they assume they can accept increasing responsibility." However, parents should not assume that when their children reach the age of reasoning (age 7) that they magically turn into organized, responsible human beings. Children need guidance from their parents to adopt strategies that will help them remember.

Organize to Remember

Children who are organized do not tend to misplace their belongings. Purchase a calendar that has columns for individual schedules or assign a different color for each family member. Have your children write their own activities on the calendar. Use a variety of markers for different types of events (i.e. red for sporting events and green for major projects due at school, etc.). The key is to remember to check the calendar at the start of each day. Remind your children to check the calendar just as you would remind them to brush their teeth until it becomes part of the morning routine.

Teach Remembering Strategies

Garber, Garber and Spizman suggest that parents teach their children "remembering strategies." These should include a body scan and an environment scan. They recommend teaching children to stop at the door and say, "Did I forget anything?" Children should then scan themselves for bags and other items they should be carrying or wearing. Parents should do this with their children at first. One might say, "I have my briefcase, my cell phone and the note for the school nurse." Then have your children repeat the items they need to have for the day. Next everyone checks his or her environment. Look on the kitchen counter and the floor to see if you’ve left anything behind. Children will respond to this strategy, just as they learn to "stop, look and listen" before crossing the street.

Garber, Garber and Spizman also encourage parents to allow their children to come up with "remembering strategies" on their own. For example, if one of your children finds it hard to remember an instrument on lesson days, she might want to put a neon sticker on the family calendar or right on the front door. The idea is to allow your children to take ownership of their remembering strategies. What they come up with on their own will be easier to adopt.

Before School

Has an extra trip to your children’s school become commonplace for you? A frenzied morning atmosphere will exacerbate forgetful tendencies with all family members. You may want to reexamine your "morning ritual" so it works to everyone’s advantage.

Most of us have experienced dashing out of the house in a panic to catch the bus. Shortly afterward that unwanted, nagging feeling begins to surface telling us that something has been forgotten. Planning the night before will cut down on morning chaos. Decide on a special place to store things that are needed for school the following day. This might be an area in a mudroom or entryway. Children should pack their own book bag and check their assignment notebooks to make sure they haven’t forgotten anything. It is also a good idea to choose clothing the night before (especially if you have a child who invariably starts an argument the minute her clothes are laid out).


Letting our children suffer the consequences for their actions is imperative. It is also one of the hardest choices we make as parents because our instincts tell us to help our kids when they are in distress. In their book, "Parenting with Love and Logic," Foster Cline, M.D., and Jim Fay advise parents to use caution when choosing to rescue their children when they’ve forgotten something. "Rescuing children robs them of the opportunity to learn lessons at emotional times when the lessons will be best remembered." You should think twice before you race off to your children’s school with forgotten book fair money or sneakers for soccer practice. If children are forced to suffer the consequences for their forgetfulness, they will aptly employ those remembering strategies you’ve taught them.

My story ends on a positive note. After a lot of practice, my daughter started to catch on. Now a sixth-grader, she is actually almost as organized as I am. I had to stop myself mid-sentence the other day when I asked, "Do you have your –?" But there it was, lunch check hand, along with a huge smile on her face!

Myrna Beth Haskell is a freelance writer based in Salt Point, N.Y.