“Mum, can you bring me my lunch?”

“Mum, I need my library book at school!”

“Mum, we have to drive back home to get my homework!”

These phrases are probably very familiar to you if you have a forgetful child.

It can be really frustrating to raise a child who is constantly forgetting things after they start primary school. Luckily, there are ways to help them learn to look after themselves.

Stop remembering for your child

When our children are babies, we are constantly rescuing them from their distress. We feed them when they’re hungry, change their nappies when they’re uncomfortable, and give them affection when they cry. As they get older we keep looking after them, but the trick is to stop rescuing them when they are capable of doing an activity for themselves. For example, if your toddler drops a toy and begins to cry, assist them in looking for it instead of just picking it up yourself.

If a forgetful child has a parent who always remembers, they won’t have to face the consequences and won’t have any motivation to remember things themselves. Your child most likely remembers things that have importance to them, just not items such as homework and notes from the teacher! It’s hard to take a step back as a parent, because you don’t want your child to be in distress. But to teach them an important sense of responsibility for later in life, sometimes it’s necessary to let them forget their lunch a couple of times.

Use positive words

You should avoid labelling your child at all costs, do not call them ‘forgetful’ because this will be a hit to their self-esteem and only discourage them from trying. Try to avoid the word ‘forget’ altogether and replace it with ‘remember’. For example, instead of saying ‘don’t forget your lunch!’ gently prompt with ‘have you remembered to pack everything in your school bag today?’ This will put the responsibility onto them and they will slowly learn to ask these questions themselves.

Each time they remember something, no matter how small, praise and congratulate them for it. If they get a good reaction for remembering they will be more motivated to do it. You don’t need to punish them for forgetting because they will learn those consequences themselves, such as going hungry for forgetting their lunch.

Teach your child how to remember

Get the whole family organised and it will be a lot easier for you to remember what you need to. Set up a family calendar for events, plus a calendar in each child’s room, with colour coded squares for different activities. For example, blue might indicate projects due at school, and green might be soccer training. Write lists and stick them where they can be easily seen, such as a list of everything your child needs to pack in their school bag stuck on the shelf where their bag sits. Ask your child to check the calendar and lists every morning, make it a habit like brushing their teeth and it will make remembering much easier. Before you leave the house, lead by example and double check you have remembered everything, and that there is nothing important left behind on the kitchen bench. Don’t forget to praise them when they do well!

Be patient

It can take three weeks for a new habit to be made, so be patient with your child. Let them know that it’s ok if they mess up sometimes and keep encouraging their good behaviour. Stand your ground when they forget something and let them face the consequences without being rescued by you. It may be difficult at first, but you have to learn to trust them to be responsible on their own, and they will thank you in years to come!

YMCA Victoria offers early learning, before and after school care and school holiday programs for children across Melbourne. You can find out more at childrensprograms.ymca.org.au