Helping the forgetful child: Lessons for the parent

Helping the forgetful child: Lessons for the parent

‘You forgot your homework? Again?’

‘I asked you to write it down in the diary. Why didn’t you?’

‘What?! A test tomorrow? And you haven’t brought the books?’

 Picture every one of those questions, repeated every alternate day, over a period of 8 months. It’s a helpless feeling, the despair that comes from parenting a forgetful child. It’s even more frustrating to be in the shoes of that child.

Here’s what it looks like on the inside.

 

The parent’s mind:

What do I do? This must be the fiftieth time she’s forgotten her homework! I can’t face another meeting with the teachers where I’m told that she needs to concentrate more. What else do I do? I’ve been telling her that she needs to focus, every single day. But she doesn’t listen! I honestly wonder if she even knows or cares about her unfinished work!
 

The child’s mind:

I am trying so hard but I cannot remember. I don’t know why I forget. I just don’t. Maybe I talk too much in class. Maybe I am not clever enough. I must try harder tomorrow. I must not disappoint my parents. 
 
Heartbreaking, isn’t it? As you can tell, the parent and the child both suffer from a feeling of excessive guilt but neither has actually sourced the root cause of the issue.
In my case it became a reflection on my parenting- perhaps I wasn’t involved enough or maybe I was too hard on her (the latter was probably true), and the outcome is that she went into emotional lock down. It came to a point that she started trembling the moment she walked in the door after school and had no answer to the question, ‘What homework do you have today?’
Painful as it was for me to admit it, I had to backtrack and look at a few possibilities:
  1. She is wired differently from who I am
  2. She lacked concentration and attention
  3. She really didn’t remember the task
So it fell to me to tackle the issue at these different levels. Since I realised point #1 rather late (don’t judge me), I naturally began with trying to solve point #3 first.

Reminders:

It seemed to me that it would help if she had reminders, physical reminders, to help her through the process at school. So I bought post-it notes, wrote tips down and inserted them in her lunch box, her backpack, her diary and her pencil case.
I then tried the standard ‘string on the finger’ trick. Seeing it ought to have helped her remember that there was an assignment due the next day. Or so I hoped.
Now, both those tips worked. . . occasionally. They were like flashes in the pan. She’d remember one day, be euphoric about it and forget the work the next 4 days on the trot. Hmm, this wasn’t helping her or my patience levels, I could tell you that.

Lack of attention:

Gy has always been a fairly independent child and by that, I mean she can keep herself occupied for hours on end with a book, a game, a craft activity and of course, her endless chatter. While I’m usually the recipient of most of her fascinating talk, she can talk to herself a lot too. She’s also been a very dreamy child, one who can stare into the distance for many long minutes, at times driving time-crazed me to the point of annoyance.
Teachers at school were also telling me of how she happened to get easily distracted, stared out the window a lot and turned to observe her neighbour doing something while the teacher was giving instructions. Interestingly, they were very supportive and tried to do everything they could to help her.
One teacher made sure she called out Gy by name, gently asking if she was done with the written work. Another used to pick her out and ask her a specific question based on the lesson. Yet another would give her extra time during lunch to complete an assignment and submit it.
Unfortunately, she didn’t have that encouraging a mom when it came to repeat instances of missed assignments and pending school work. If I actually had captured on film the number of times I’ve glared at her, hand on my hip as she stood there telling me she’d forgotten the work, I could fill five photo albums by now.
Deciding that concentration was the culprit, we set about working on meditation techniques to improve focus. So began 3-minute sessions of silence which always began well but ended with fidgeting, helpless giggles and the constant query, ‘Are the three minutes up?’ Suffice to say, we didn’t pursue that for too long. So, yes, she lacked concentration but what were we going to do now that would help her?
Do you have a forgetful child on your hands? Does she forget homework, leave assignments undone and find concentration difficult? You may have a visual learner on your hands. Here's how I found out and helped my daughter with this situation.

Discovering the Visual Learner:

It was, interestingly, in the first few days of 2016 that something happened to shift the focus towards the first possibility: she’s wired differently from me/ my husband. She attended a birthday party and one of the items in her goody bag was a notepad and a pencil which she greatly cherished. Every child likes them but she seemed to take a very keen shine to it.
Gy loved working with her hands, doodling and drawing. During her study sessions, I’d observed that if she put her thoughts down in a mind-map or a visual representation, she registered it better. Conversely, verbal instructions seemed to go in one ear and out another. Slowly, it dawned on me that I had a visual learner on my hands.
Using the diary as an aid, I suggested that she try the following:
  1. Write down a list of things to do every day- simple tasks such as putting clothes in the laundry basket, washing up before dinner etc. She took to this readily.
  2. She began to do this every single night, adding a visual aid for each task. She’d draw a picture of a laundry basket or a tennis racquet to indicate what the task entailed.
  3. She would tick the tasks off at the end of the next day.

[bctt tweet=”How I discovered my child was a visual learner and how I helped her. #Parenting” username=”shyvish”]

What happened next:

At the dawn of 2016, I’d made a conscious promise to myself to let go of my sense of control, over myself as well as Gy. The diary habit fell beautifully into place, keeping these promises in mind. In no order of importance, here are four outcomes that manifested:
  1. Almost instinctively, she seemed to translate the diary habit to school work. Having it written down at home appeared to act like a visual aid for her at school.
  2. Gently, yet firmly, I stopped asking other parents about the homework for the day. Earlier, she would forget the work and promptly ask me to find out from a neighbour. Doing this was only reinforcing her habit of forgetting. Stopping it ensured that she would face the consequence at school- a lower grade for incomplete work; a small price to pay for a bigger lesson.
  3. The blame game stopped. What used to be a boxing match of sorts between us each time she forgot her homework now became a simple, one-line statement: ‘Oh, that’s fine. You’ll figure out what to do. I know you will.’ Guess what? It works.
  4. Her confidence in herself grew incredibly. It was comforting to see her smile at the fact that she’d remembered something or act sombre that she’d missed an assignment. Either way, the result was of her own making and she knew it, with quiet maturity.
It can be very very hard to let go of the illusion of total control that we appear to have over our children. But we must let go if they are to stumble, pick themselves up and learn from their own mistakes.
In all this, I must share what Gy herself said, in her signature style, about this entire series of events:

Amma, I feel more responsible now. It wasn’t like this last year. I don’t think 2015 was a good year for me. I have high hopes for 2016.’

~~~~
If you suspect your child may be a visual learner too, I hope my post helps you.
 Here are a couple of articles on the subject that I found very relevant.
 
 
 
If you’re wondering about how to let go and let your children learn from their own mistakes, 
then I recommend this excellent piece: 
 

*How to give your child the gift of failure

An excerpt of the book by Jessica Lahey can be read here.

*Featured image courtesy: Shutterstock

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24 thoughts on “Helping the forgetful child: Lessons for the parent

  1. This is a wonderful post Shailaja.

    I don't mean to compare anyone to anyone here, but I interact with children on the autism spectrum and their teachers regularly. Those kids are wired differently as well, only their wiring is different from everyone else. And the teachers there employ similar techniques to figure out what will work with each child.

    Guess children will be children, regardless of whether they are neurotypical or special 🙂

  2. Such a lovely recap of your journey Shailaja :). And now that I (re)think about it, I am sure it would help for any child to get organized, not just a forgetful one. I'm going to try hard to introduce the journal idea at home, maybe just to recap the day at school. It would also be a way to get these kids to write/tell stories with fewer words I tell you :P.

  3. Wonderful post, Shailaja. I felt your post too close to my heart. Since i faced all these with my 12 year old son Mitesh. But I also learnt the art of helpful parenting after so many troubles and yelling …. Now we both are comfortable with everything. He enjoy studying also with music, drawings and dance. But now i have no complaints over it. Thanks for this great post.

  4. Hi shailaja thank you for this lovely post and many others which have helped me immensely in my parenting journey….my daughter has her head in the clouds perpetually and it is very frustrating…hopefully I will learn to apply the techniques suggested…

  5. That was brilliant and I'm glad it worked with so well with Gy. I tried doing it with H and N – I made out a list of tasks (along with pictures). They did it while that sheet was up on the wall but once I removed it they slacked off again. Maybe the trick is in letting them make the list themselves.

  6. Such a wonderful post this one. Every child is different. Expecting the same technique to work on all kids is not smart at all. I am glad that you figured out what works for your Gy, Shailaja. We need more smart parents like you who accept their kids uniqueness as such. My Kanna likes to do his math but not english. I don't make a big deal about it but I guide him bit by bit without tiring him out. But then he likes to write stories of his own and he has a diary which we stared keeping since last year to encourage the writing habit. I believe that kids should be able to enjoy the whole process of learning, otherwise what's the point, right? And I must say, I am in ove with the 2nd point, it's a hard learning but very effective one. Also, thank you for sharing the resources. 🙂

  7. Thank you, Vishal. I am so glad to hear that! I agree and as I discussed with you, I am in awe of people who work with children on the autism spectrum/ deal with them on a personal relationship basis. It is incredible to see the kind of lessons we can learn from children if we choose to look at them in the right way.

  8. Organization does help, Aparna, in more interesting ways than we know. Apart from getting them into the routine, I think it helps the visual learners connect the dots in their mind. It could also be one reason why Gy liked Abacus because she was 'seeing' the working out of the problems as opposed to doing it mentally.

  9. I agree with yelling not helping in the situation at all, Vasantha. Learnt that the hard way and to be honest, I have loved every lesson my daughter has taught me through her love and behaviour. Thank you for reading and sharing my post. I really appreciate it!

  10. Thank you so much Gowri, for stopping by and saying that my posts help you. It feels wonderful to know that our experiences can help someone else in their journey. Feel free to reach out and ask for any help. I'd be glad to share my learning.

  11. Yes, I think the key is to let them do it themselves. I found that if I tried to write it down/ help her, she would allow me and the motivation to do it wasn't really manifesting. This way she takes pride in it and gets her own satisfaction.

  12. That sounds really good, Vinitha! Being in the Indian eco-system of education which still lays a large emphasis on rote learning, it is important for us to break out of the mould and explore the theory of multiple intelligences in detail. I have been doing a lot of reading on the subject and have bookmarked innumerable articles on the subject of reading, learning, homework, education and parenting. If nothing else this has been a great way to let go of certain preconceived notions we may have had about the way learning should be. Gy enjoys learning now and the satisfaction she gets from it is wholly her own, which is as it should be.

    Thank you so much for reading and appreciating.

  13. Wonderful post, Shy. And thank you for sharing it with us.
    Though Rishi is still at that 'confusingly tender' age, we've discovered that visual elements seem to work better for him, rather than trying to drill things into his head.
    In fact, he can recite anything once, but ask him to write and he gets distracted. We've been trying to work on a little 'time-table' for him and it's working. Well, largely. We still have our off-days.
    But the biggest thing is that he realises that he is happier doing certain things by himself.
    The toughest part is not just us letting go, but also the fact that sometimes teachers don't get that kids are unique and each have different requirements.

  14. This is our story, Sailaja. Except that it's opposite. Here, most of the homework is online ..so he doesn't have to copy anything or forget the hw. But…he forgets to turn in the hw that he did or doesn't do the hw at all. I let him be that way as we too tried all of it including meditation. But making him self realise is not working. His grades are going lower and that doesn't seem to impact him at all 🙁 He is an older version of Gy. I wish he read books like her. Only thing he can sit and for hours together is watch sports. So, when I saw your post title on FB …I had stop everything I was doing and read it. I mentioned the proposal immediately to my husb and son. It didn't make complete sense to him. Will discuss it again today and see if it works. He is a middle schooler..so things are slightly different. Thank you for writing this.

  15. Child-led learning is one of the best things I have encountered, Sid. I think kids are capable of a lot more than we give them credit for. I noticed this when I used to help Gy study and get frustrated with that tone that said, 'You didn't get THIS? It's so simple!' Now that didn't help, obviously. It takes a long time for us to unlearn and re-learn with the new techniques and it is a process I am thoroughly enjoying, to be honest. So much to learn from our kids and through parenting. As for the teachers, it helps to find one empathetic teacher and share your concerns It makes a huge difference.

  16. Self-realisation, I find, is a very nebulous and uncertain thing, Prudhvi. I think it may help to determine the exact kind of learner he is and play to his strengths. I understand that the middle school demands are far greater than on that of primary. Gy is in grade 4 and has just been introduced to exams and tests so she struggled greatly at first. Now, with this learning, I am able to figure out what works for her and what doesn't. Let me know if you need any more resources. Have got many links to good sites.

  17. How do you get to be so patient? Oh that must be the Zen 😀

    Apparently I was a very hyper active kid and remembered everything to the tee. My parents were more worried about what is wrong with me. As I could remember random things that happened years ago as well as stuff at school in precise detail. They knew that something was wrong with me since a young age 😛

    Jokes apart, today parenting has become all about wanting the child to excel in everything. Just so that the parents could feel good. A child has challenges of his/her own, that parents refuse to see. It is such a sad thing. Parents can only help when they realize that the child is living his/her childhood and not their unfulfilled dreams.

  18. Knowing you, why am I not surprised to know you were a hyperactive kid? 😉 Gy is actually a very fun mix. She has a brilliant memory for things she enjoys and loves doing.She also remembers things we said from ages ago. But boring stuff, the stuff of routine, that bogs her down. So this technique helps her a good deal 🙂

  19. Okay this is so timely. I am dreading S's PTM tomorrow, because his teacher is going to tell me that he is distracted. She has told me this every single time now and I have been telling him that I know his teacher will complain about him. Now I feel so ashamed for doing that. He is a visual learner too. I know it and yet I seem to want him to be like the others. He is so hyperactive and can concentrate on things he wants to, but anything else he is just distracted. Sometimes he will talk of things that happened months back while he is distracted.But you made me realise I need to understand him more rather than just demand. You know…I always seem to come here when I need it the most..it is like your blog calls out to me. Thank You

  20. Don't feel ashamed, Jai. I felt this only now, after so many years of listening to the teacher say she lacks concentration. It cannot be easy because we are not used to the varied forms of learning, right? Gy is the same- Talks of things that happened years ago with clarity but cannot recall things from yesterday, until I started her on this technique.

    As for the blog calling out to you, how touching. I am really glad to hear that. Thank you!

  21. I am happy that these pointers helped with Gy. As far as my kids are concerned, no nudges or suggestions to make lists or even me creating a list of things to do say every night does not help. Mostly they are able to do their homework themselves. I just sometimes ask casually which acts as a reminder. I guess different things work for different people. That said, visual aids definitely help children in learning better.

  22. You won't believe the number of times I opened this page to comment… I actually put it on my list. PC problems.

    So – you know it is a lovely post. 🙂 I had similar issues. While I enjoy the memory of an elephant (am also a visual learner), Vidur used to drive me nuts by floating along life, happy, always elsewhere. He never lacked focus, but just blissfully chose to “forget”. I suspected his mind just classified things according to importance – need to know/need to remember/need to forget. It was just unfortunate that he didn't prioritize. I mean, he'd dream so much he'd forget to wear socks/ID tag/you name it. Yep, I'd be a millionaire if I bet a buck for each time I secretly freaked out in my mind while pretending to be sweet and patient outside.

    Rather than keep reminding him, which I did for a while, I started sticking notes all over the place. Slightly dumb because what if he didn't look at it? Ha ha. Then I put a blackboard up next to his cupboard, with columns for various things and options for adding more. I strategically put it where everyone couldn't see it – so he was excited. It worked. 🙂 And as for school, we started him on the diary habit – write every little thing down.

    Today, he's more or less managing. Of course he skips stuff…but so far, so good. Hugs to Gy. I appreciate you for analyzing this and trying to solve it. It is equally hard for the child.

  23. Oh gosh, that is GY to a T! All the dreaminess in the world 😀 Yes it is very hard for the child and I am glad that we found some way to help her navigate this whole thing. I know it must have been terribly hard on her.

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