Categories: parenting

Forget It! How to be done with everyday forgetfulness.

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verdue library books. Smelly gym clothes. Permission slips rushed to school as the field-trip bus is about to pull away. When will kids learn to remember the things they need before the guilty, “Um, I forgot…” phone call?

As you may have heard before, “A child who always forgets has a parent who always remembers.” Which is to say, every time you rescue your kids with constant reminders or by bailing them out when they forget, you actually do them a disservice, as they never feel the sting of their forgetfulness and learn to take responsibility.

I’m not talking about the occasional slips of mind. You know you have a real problem when you’re dropping off a lunchbox or musical instrument on a weekly basis for one of your kids. Here’s how to solve it:

  1. Remind them to remember—once. Start by telling your school-age kids they’re old enough to take responsibility for remembering their own belongings and commitments. Then break the news that you will no longer rescue them if they forget. This conversation shouldn’t happen in the heat of the moment, but at a time when everyone’s calm.
  2. Empower the memory. While you won’t be reminding kids about science projects and soccer cleats anymore, you can give them the tools to help them remember on their own. Ask, “What can you do to help you remember to pack everything you need?” Then listen to what your kids have to say. After they’re spoken their ideas, you can suggest things like checklists by the door, personal cubbies and packing the backpack the night before as additional memory methods.
  3. Forget rescuing! Once you’ve put your system in play, let natural consequences do the teaching for you. Empathize with your child, but resist the urge to run forgotten items to school. Your kids might receive a bad grade or two for missing homework, but the lifelong lessons will be worth it.

With these tips, you can make forgetfulness—and those rushed trips to your child’s classroom—a thing of the past.

For more strategies to teach your kids to take personal responsibility, join us for an upcoming free parenting webinar. Learn more.

About the Author

Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the best selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.
Amy McCready

Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the best selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.

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  • Two of my five kids are extra forgetful. When they forget things like gloves, lunch boxes/containers and the like, they owe an envelope money to buy a new item. For example, leave your lunch box Monday, bummer, if it happens again Tues. they owe the envelope an amount of money they agree on prior to leaving the item. If they leave their lunch box enough times, they now have money in an envelope to buy a new one. When we discuss before hand and my kids decide on a price it cuts back on me nagging and they are able to take accountability without blaming mom!

  • What is appropriate remembering and responsibility for different ages? I have a 5 year old who just lost a glove... not the end of the world but I feel that if I don't constantly check for gloves, hat, lunchboxes, show and tell items, library books, etc. that they will be lost/forgotten. I have to set everything out in one spot for EACH family member every morning or it's forgotten... and even then, sometimes my husband leaves the stuff for the kids (or himself!) behind.

  • This reminds me of the time I saw a cartoon years ago in Reader's Digest. It was a picture of a mom handing a lunch box over the counter to the school secretary. She was wearing her bathrobe and had curlers in her hair. I thought it was hilarious and showed it to my own son who was in junior high at the time. The look of horror on his face told me that he knew I would so do the same thing, and he NEVER called from school asking me to bring something he forgot.

  • @Anne, I agree! It is a constant struggle to give the support they truly need, but at the same time let them learn personal responsibility.

    • Anne, I am an adult with ADD, making him lists will do wonders. Something about seeing things written down or on a checklists, locks it in my memory. It also helps me get into a rhythm...if his assignments are due fridays, or gym is on tuesdays....make charts on dry erase boards. ??? I hope those ideas help you out. <3

    • Yes! And when teachers tell me, "Well, we can't excuse that he forgot his assignment because it wouldn't be fair to the other kids," my first reaction is to get angry because it's not fair, either that he has ADHD and they don't. But I don't want to be making excuses for him all the time and have him think he can do the same. Life won't work that way when I'm out of the picture. So hard to know the right thing to do at any given time.

  • This is something we really struggle with. Our 10 year old has A LOT of homework and assignments. I do feel like this is not my responsibility, I have completed the fourth grade. However, bad grades do not motivate her. I would love any suggestions.

    • First of all, your 10 year old should NOT have "A LOT of homework and assignments". Right now your child feels the negative affects of education as opposed to the Joy of Learning and Discovery. Your child will create a pathway in her brain that will be hardwired with negative feelings associated with Learning if it hasn't already happened. She will be another rat in the race and it will take many years, if not a miracle, to rewire her brain with the excitement and joy that Learning should be!

      If she has a lot of homework (which shouldn't be more than 1/2 per day), sit with her and be a soft and encouraging voice. She needs kindness, and if she receives it from you, she will start to correlate kindness, love, and support with the hard times she is going through. You do not have to do the work for her, but she needs your motherly love. After awhile she will grow new pathways in her brain that will lead her to correlate Learning with a good feeling in her heart :)

    • I have the same problem Christy. My son doesn't seem to care that he gets bad grades. I feel like I'm constantly reminding him to not only do the assignments, but to turn them in as well. I would love some suggestions!

  • What about a child with ADHD? Tough line to walk to know that they need help, but not wanting to add to the problem to forgetting by doing the remembering for them.

    • Lists and chore charts can be your child's best ally. Put them everywhere if needed. And that's OK. The same tips and tricks ADD adults need are perfectly fine for ADD children as well. Many of us need extra help with these kind of things, and it's OK to take advantage of things like chore charts and lists for that help.

    • We struggle with the same thing at our house. I am a fan of the tough love but with ADHD its hard to identify the difference between their brain just not being able to handle it yet or them being stubborn and forgetful.

  • My 6 yr old daughter always forgets to rinse her mouth after brushing her teeth. I have to always remind her things which are obvious in a course..the list is too long..:(

    • One of the things you might do instead of giving her a command is, instead, mention why rinsing is a good thing. Talk about the dangers of fluoride and why that shouldn't stay in one's mouth. Another thing I do is mention the temperature as opposed to giving the usual command of telling my child what to wear. I highly recommend the book, "Parenting with Love & Logic". You will be fine. I say to my child lead by example and there will be little energy spent talking. Brush your teeth with her! :)

  • Renee,
    We set up a chores cards chart/board in a high traffic spot in the house. All his to do's in a day are clearly sequenced on the chart. He never forgets brushing that way (except when he clearly wants to skip this responsibility). Well, what we did is at the end of each set of chores cards in a day, there's a corresponding reward (30 minute TV time example) when all the chores are completely done. BTW, this is the Accountable kids system. I tweaked it a bit with our needs. Hope it helps

  • Our son forgets to brush his teeth without reminders. It doesn't seem like cavities are a good natural consequence and he already doesn't eat a lot of sweets. Suggestions?

    • Our kids (6yo & 4yo) bought their own battery operated toothbrushes (about $5 each) and are so excited to use them that they brush more often than two times a day sometimes. Might not work for everyone but it's worked wonders for us!

    • Malou's idea of including brushing in the daily chores is spot on. Also, do you have a friend who works in a dental office or maybe a pediatric dentist nearby who would be willing to let you take a tour with your child and explain the consequences of not brushing?

    • Renee,
      We set up a chores cards chart/board in a high traffic spot in the house. All his to do’s in a day are clearly sequenced on the chart. He never forgets brushing that way (except when he clearly wants to skip this responsibility). Well, what we did is at the end of each set of chores cards in a day, there’s a corresponding reward (30 minute TV time example) when all the chores are completely done. BTW, this is the Accountable kids system. I tweaked it a bit with our needs. Hope it helps

    • My 6 year old daughter is the same. That is, until we instilled the rule "if you don't brush your teeth, no candy for the rest of the week." It's working so far.

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Amy McCready

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