Is your child:
Some children seem to forget everything. You may catch yourself saying, “you would lose your head too if it wasn’t attached!”
These kids leave homework assignments, projects, clothing, and lunch boxes at school despite frequent reminders to bring things home. The ‘lost and found’ seems to have their name on it.
Missing assignments and late work have become the norm. The child’s teacher may keep saying, “He could do so much better if he would just apply himself!”
She may show up at school on the day of a big field trip without her sack lunch or permission slip. He may have a backpack that looks like a science project.
You may find a crumpled up picture day order form, past due homework assignments, and lunch money in the bottom of your child’s locker.
You might have tried sticky notes, planners, digital devices, reminders, and email alerts. Despite lots of support, some children continue to miss assignments and remain vastly unorganized.
Your child may be falling behind in school or may be in trouble a lot. You may feel like, ‘how will my teenager ever be self-sufficient?’ Generally, this forgetfulness will boil over into other areas of life.
Your child may struggle with the morning routine. He may fail to brush his teeth, throwing on wrinkled jeans, skipping breakfast and getting out the door 10 minutes late. She may be the one at soccer practice who is dressed out for an away game when the game is to be at home.
You may have endless arguments over your child’s ‘taking responsibility,’ ‘getting organized’ and ‘remembering things.’
The underlying problem here could be general memory.
Memory can be defined as, “the mental ability to store and retrieve words, facts, procedures, skills, concepts, and experiences” .
Children with poor memory skills may have issues with one or more of the following skills: organization, planning, working memory, processing speed, or attention.
Organization is a part of executive functioning.
Organization refers to the ability to keep track of a number of different things and to remain organized, not forgetting to complete a task.
Planning is also a part of executive functioning. Planning refers to the ability to plan out a series and sequence of moves one step at a time.
For example, a child might think, “I need to get my math homework, my math book, my planner, and then make sure to write down my assignments. I need to put those all into my backpack.”
Working memory refers to the ability to hold things in memory for a short amount of time, perhaps 20 to 30 seconds, and to act on that information.
For example, a child with good working memory can hold a list of things to do in his head long enough to write them down or gather the materials needed to complete the tasks.
Processing speed is related to the speed at which an individual can take in and process information.
A person with slow processing speed may have difficulty when information is provided quickly or when an environment is busy with a lot of extra information that the individual is also having to process, such as in a crowded classroom.
Attention means the ability to focus and to sustain one’s attention long enough to complete a task or activity without becoming distracted. Sustained
Attention is the ability to focus on something even if the task is very boring or to focus in the absence of immediate reinforcement. Getting material organized and collected may be hard to attend to, while building a Lego Tower or playing a video game is easy.
The first thing to do is likely to request a consult with the school. If your child is in upper elementary, middle school, or high school, remembering assignments is very important.
It can be a useful strategy to sit down with teachers and to talk about how to support your child in using a planner. A home-school communication notebook or daily planner book that is checked by the teacher may be a good approach.
If assignments and grades are posted on-line, get in the habit of checking the assignment websites with your child each night.
You might follow a gradual release approach. First, “I do,” then, “we do,” and finally, “you do.” Let the teachers know that you will pull your support gradually as your child gains skills.
It is not helpful for adults to say, “He should be able to do this by now.” Clearly, he is not. Yes, your child is ultimately responsible, but for now, this process is a ‘team game.’
However, many kids will get the hang of it with support. Do not get discouraged. Provide support and structure.
Collaborative goal setting is a powerful strategy [9, 10, 11]. Set specific deadlines and objectives with a reward at the end. If your child wants a new scooter, for example, maybe he can set goals with you for earning it. Perhaps, if he gets all his grades up to a B or better, you will help him purchase one.
It may be helpful to look at the household organization system. Make things clear, concise and easy to follow. Create charts and posters with reminders and sequences. Make a specific place to put shoes and backpacks the night before school.
Find immediate ways to positively reinforce your child for following the system, and have a plan in place for forgotten assignments. A behavior therapist can help to create really effective systems to improve organization.
Sometimes disorganized children also have disorganized parents, and so it can be very helpful if a therapist can help to shoulder some of the burden of getting your child organized.
If your child is struggling with a similar problem, not directly addressed in this section, see the list below for links to information about other related symptom areas.
Children who have significant problems in this area may have any of the following potential disabilities. *Note, this information does not serve as a diagnosis in any way. See the ‘Where to Go for Help’ section for professionals who can diagnose or provide a referral.
If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his learning, relationships, or happiness, the following professionals could help; they may offer diagnosis, treatment, or both.
These professionals may recommend or administer the following tests for this symptom:
 Kroncke, Willard, & Huckabee (2016). Assessment of autism spectrum disorder: Critical issues in clinical forensic and school settings. Springer, San Francisco.
 Barkley, Russell A. (2013). Taking charge of ADHD, 3rd edition: The complete, authoritative guide for parents.
 Dawson, Peg & Guare, Richard (2009). Smart but scattered: The revolutionary “executive skills” approach to helping kids reach their potential.
 Dawson, Peg & Guare, Richard (2010). Executive skills in children and adolescents: A practical guide to assessment and intervention, second edition. Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Executive-Skills-Children-Adolescents-Second/dp/1606235710?ie=UTF8&ref_=asap_bc
 Cooper-Kahn, Joyce & Dietzel, Laurie C. (2008). Late, lost, and unprepared: A parent’s guide to helping children with executive functioning.
 Lewis, PhD, Jeanne, Calvery, Ph.D., Margaret, & Lewis, Ph.D., Hal (2002). Brainstars. Brain Injury: Strategies for Teams and Re-education for Students. US Department of Education: Office of Special Programs.
 Lorayne, Harry & Lucas, Jerry (2012) The Memory Book: A classic guide to improving your memory at work school and play.
 Higbee, Kenneth. (2008) Your Memory: How it works and how to improve it (A book about Mneumonics) https://www.amazon.com/Your-Memory-How-Works-Improve-ebook/dp/B00D0UZZFW/
 Zentic, Tamara (2015). Grit & bear it activity guide: Activities to engage, encourage, and inspire perseverance. https://www.amazon.com/Grit-Black-White-Living-Color/dp/1934490644/
 Siegel, Daniel J. & Bryson, Tina Payne (2012). The whole brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind.
 Cooper-Kahn, Joyce & Dietzel, Laurie (2008). Late, lost and unprepared: A parent’s guide to helping children with executive functioning.
Meiners, Cheri, J. (2003). Listen and learn. https://www.amazon.com/Listen-Learn-Cheri-J-Meiners/dp/1575421232/
Cook, Julia (2013). Thanks for the feedback, I think (Best me I can be!)
Deak, JoAnn & Ackerley, Sarah (2010). Your fantastic elastic brain stretch it, shape it. Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Fantastic-Elastic-Brain-Stretch-Shape/dp/0982993803/
McCumbee, S. (2014) The garden in my mind: Growing through positive choices. Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Garden-My-Mind-Growing-Positive/dp/1934490547/
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Previously Licensed on: February 21, 2017
Stylized by Katie Harwood exclusively for CLEAR Child Psychology