Signs & Symptoms

General Memory

Is your child forgetful?

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.’

What do challenges with General Memory look like?

  • Always saying, “Oh, I forgot!”
  • Showing up a day late and a dollar short?
  • Missing assignments and late work?
  • Often losing his planner?
  • Forgetting the book she needs to do her math assignment?
  • Always saying, ‘I forgot my homework!’ ‘I can’t find my jacket!’ ‘Where is my science project?’ and ‘I was sure I left it right here!’
  • Failing to follow directions?
  • Missing deadlines and due dates?
  • Seeming to be in need of a personal assistant?

Why is General Memory happening?

The underlying problem here could be general memory. 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 refers to the ability to keep track of a number of different things and to remain organized, not forgetting to complete a task. 
  • Planning refers to the ability to plan out a series and sequence of moves one step at a time. 
  • 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. 
  • Processing speed is related to the speed at which an individual can take in and process information. 
  • Attention means the ability to focus and to sustain one’s attention long enough to complete a task or activity without becoming distracted.

All of these skills above are involved in your child’s memory. If your child is struggling with remembering information in the classroom it will be important to check in with the teacher or school psychologist to see which of these may be the issue. There are a wide variety of strategies that can be employed to address any of these, depending on your child’s particular profile. Do not underestimate ‘low tech’ solutions such as post-it notes, checklists, timers, reminders, story-boards, and repetition. We all remember better when we use such strategies.

How can I manage General Memory at home?

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.

How can Clear Child Psychology help with General Memory?

If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his or her learning, relationships, or happiness, it’s time to seek professional help.

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