"Gemma, where's your homework book?"
"I can't find it!!"
"I've talked to you about this one hundred times, why isn't it in your bag like it's supposed to be?!"
"I I don't know! And I need it tomorrow!
*Cue parent scream"
"Mum, I can't find my football boots!"
"Where did you have them last?"
"I can't remember!"
*Parent and teen looking together, parent muttering, teen stomping until football boots are found somewhere obvious, like at the back of the fridge under the lettuce.
If you have a child/teen like this, just reading this will probably make blood pressure rise. Forgetful children are often hard to take. They slow life down, they get into trouble completely unnecessarily and leave us feeling completely exasperated.
A lot of forgetful children and teens DO improve their attention, concentration and memory skills as they get older, in the meantime, here are some things we can do.
Think about the last time your child or teen lost something or didn't have something they needed and ask yourself these three questions.
1. Do your kids/teens know the "home" spot for each important possession?
Designated places for important items are essential. Not a range of places, but one (okay two at the most) places, and often a "Never here" spot can be useful too. For example:
School jumpers are either in the draw or in the wash (and never in the school bag overnight),
Electronic items are being used or sit on the red table (never on the floor)
Glasses are in the case or one the book cupboard (never outside unless on your head)
- and so on.
Some younger child can benefit from matching stickers which go on both the object and it's "home spot" to designate a place for these items to be kept when not being used.
Teenagers can be involved in discussions about where appropriate "home" spots and "Never" spots should be for various items.
2. Do your kids/teens have one particular time of day (or week) when children put possessions in their "home" spots?
It's not enough that there is a home spot for important items, there also has been a regular time, system or routine when the possession is put in the home spot.
As soon as you get home from school (before screens, before food, before play), your school hat goes in the hat box.
As soon as you finish dinner, your homework bag gets put in your school bag.
Just before bed, you check your glasses are in the glasses case.
Before you leave for school, you set your device on charge at the charging station.
It's important that these routines are very specific. The idea "when you have finished with something, put it away" is a great idea in theory, and one to work towards - but kids with memory, attention and concentration problems need more specific routines than this.
2. Do your kids/teens have systems and visual cues which remind them to do "putting away in home spot" tasks?
For some kids, it's not enough to just have a spot, and it's not even enough to just have a "time for things to be put in their spot" - they need a visual prompt or routine to get them to put their things in their home spot and out of their "never" spots.
To help you remember to put your hat in your hat box when you get home, we will put a note on the fridge which says: Hat in Hat Box. To help remind you to put your glasses in the case, when you clean your teeth, you will think :teeth, glasses case, teeth, glasses case - I will remind you.
Before you leave the house in the morning, as you walk through the door, we will have a list which you check - is my device on charge for the day.
Finally, ...be kind - to yourself and to them.....
Having home and never spots, a time to return items to home spots, and reminders/prompts to use home spots does help forgetful, absent minded children/teens enormously. It's far more effective than just nagging them to "concentrate" or "get organised!"
However, it's not a magic cure. Teaching children/teens to be less forgetful is a massive, long term task. It takes these kids until adulthood (and even some - not then!) to conquer these skills. This is not their fault - it's not because they are bad kids/teens, and it's not our fault either.
Sometimes we just have to take a deep breathe, realise that every thing forgotten is an opportunity to tighten up a system, be kind to ourselves in our exasperation (this sucks. It sucks for me and for them) and start again.
Our online resource Calm Kid Central has videos for parents/carers on helping children do their chores regularly and on time (with slightly less nagging) and a video on important things to do before school to have a calmer morning. For more information, click below.