How to Cure a Forgetful Kid

This is a question I got from a mother:

I have a 13-year-old son who is a forgetful kid. I ask him to bring notes from school and he forgets them. He forgets his homework, he forgets to bring messages from school, he forgets he has a test, he forgets we have plans in the family. I talked to his teachers and we agreed to communicate between us but he keeps forgetting his communication book. I feel lost and I do not understand why he is so forgetful in things that are important and remembers his computer stuff well.

What can I do?

This is not forgetting because of a memory problem. You can tell he remembers so many other things…

A knot on a fingerThe key here is “important”. What seems important to you, is not what he thinks is important. This is a very typical conflict between parents and teens – they think differently about what is important – which only proves you are a normal family. Do not expect a 13-year-old to have the same values of a grownup mother who is 20 to 30 years more experienced.

When kids keep forgetting things that are important to them, this is the sign there is a memory problem. When they forget things others want from them, this is more of an indication of lack of motivation.

Kids forget things if remembering them may be painful. They will forget to unload the dishwasher every time, because they do not like to do it. On the other hand, they remember easy, fun things. Tell them you will bring them a present and they will remind you every day until you bring it.

Also, in life, you get what you focus on. If you focus on forgetting, you will create a forgetful kid. If you focus on remembering, your child will remember things well.

Rule #1 – Use positive language

Do not use the word “forget”. In fact, ignore acts of forgetfulness as if they never happened. Whatever happens, do not label your child.

Instead, focus on remembering. Say, “Did you remember to bring this home?” or “Please remember to bring this home today”. Be patient, as this will take time. It takes about 3 weeks for the brain to switch from an old habit (forgetting) to and cement a new on (remembering).

clip_image006Keep saying, “I expect you to remember to bring this home today”. Use the word “remember” 276 times a day (OK, this is just the number that came to my mind, but you get the point).

[Read more about using positive language]

Rule #2 – Reward the desired behavior

At least twice a day, find something he remembered and say “It’s great you remembered to bring this home”, “I’m proud of you for remembering to bring this home today. You have really good memory”. Praise even tiny things, like “I see you’ve remembered to clear your schoolbag” or “I’m so happy you remembered to call me when you knew you were coming late”.

Rule #3 – Be direct and supportive

As angry and frustrated as you may be, avoid sarcasm. Do not say, “Lucky you didn’t forget your head” or anything like that. First, it contradicts rule #1 of using positive language and second, it is aggression in disguise.

You are helping your child develop good, responsible habits. Showing your frustration says to him, “I want you to remember for me”, which is external motivation.

To develop his internal motivation to remember, see yourself beside your son, the two of you looking and going in the same direction, slowly but surely. If you are there for him, he will do the best for both of you.

When he forgets something, say “That’s OK, it happens”, “It’s happened to me too”, “I know how it feels”, “You’ll learn from it” or “Next time you’ll remember”. Statements like these will make him feel that he is OK and that forgetting is not a state of being but an incident that you can learn from and make things better the next time.

Rule #4 – Teach him how to remember

The opposite of forgetting is writing down
– Danny Heimann

clip_image004Teach your kid to make lists and then follow them. Remember, you need to teach him for him, not for you. If he thinks writing down is aimed to please you, he will forget the list

Make it worthwhile for him to remember the list. Put it in a good place and go over it with him. Always look for something he will benefit from. Use what he loves (something related to the computer is a good start, if he loves computers) to reward him for remembering.

Be creative. If he feels comfortable with the computer, suggest using the computer for keeping the list and maybe getting reminders.

Happy parenting,

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  • Paulo

    i have a 20 yrs problem about my forgetfulness I often misplaces some of my personal things even I am at home and also if I am in other places like this last October 2007 I had lost my first cellphone this issue results in a long argument so I have decided to set a limit on handling & using of this type of gadget my question is what are the causes & solution of this type of problem so that it will not result in my early discharge on the type of job that I am applying for which is Computer Technician

  • Ronit Baras


    I think people forget things because:

    1. They are not organised
    2. They are tired
    3. They are emotionally overwhelmed
    4. They experience something painful and the brain puts bury that memory to make it easy for you to function.
    5. Someone told them (too many times) that they are forgetful and they live in the self fulfilling prophecy)
    6. They believe they are forgetful ( and are in the self fulfilling prophecy)
    7. They believe that getting older makes you forgetful

    other than that every memory is somewhere in your brain, never lost.

    Some of the things can be changed, others are a bit harder(trauma)
    Working on your time management and organization skills can make a huge shift.


  • Vawdow

    are you crazy? “ignore the forgetful behavior”? you obviously raised Enron kids. You can’t ignore that behavior you have to let kids know when you’re not please with them when they are acting in an unacceptable behavior. There have to be rules and when the rules are not followed there has to be punishment. Quit coddling kids. Let me show you:

    ” Son, did you bring home your homework?”
    ” no.”
    ” ok, no tv  for the night. Go to your room take a few books and paper and a pencil. You’re only to come out to use the bathroom or eat”

    next day

    ” son, did you bring home your homework?”
    “yes, do you think i wanna go thru that S&%t again”


  • Issa

    hello im 13 and i read this whole paragraph im super forgetful and my mum just got cancer she’s always thinking about me i tell her that there might be something wrong with me but everyone calls me dumb my mums blood preasure often gets high and everyone says if she dies it all my fault i dont have a purpose to live for i want to kill myself please help

  • ronitbaras

    Dear Issa,

    It is sad to hear that people around you use name calling. 
    You can’t be dumb if you can go into the internet, read a post and ask a question. 
    Grown up sometimes say things that are not appropriate and it is wrong to make you feel responsible. 
    You can try to remember things by using a calendar, to do list, a diary. It will help you and help everyone around you. 

  • ronitbaras


    I think it is better to focus on remembering than forgetting. 
    Outch! I wouldn’t want to be your child. 

  • Dalygd

    My husband and I have done everything in this article for months and months yet we have seen no changes in his memory. We reming him, we reward him, we even put up a white board are so called “reminder board” and he still does not study for tests, bring home his homework or go to his teacher during lunch to improve his grades. I feel like its putting a big separation between my son and us. I am not punishing him or putting him down but giving him tons of posotive reinforcements. I know I can’t give up but i sure feel like it.

  • ronitbaras


    That must be very frustrating. 
    Did you try any supplements and alternative methods?
    Is it only regarding school? 
    If it is only about school, this is not a problem, it means he is using avoidance to cope.  
    If he is like that even with things he love doing, that’s an issue! 

  • zenny

    I am on the same boat as you. My son does exactly what you have described. I am also very frustrated with this whole situation and teachers keep labeling him with add issues. He is only in 7th grade now and I can’t imagine how he will handle high school or college. I am a terrified parent and am also despertely looking for help. 

  • zenny

    I agree with this. If there is no punishment, the kids will never learn right from wrong. When I went to school, there was a great consequence for not doing hw from the teachers and I always trained my brain to remember because if not then I only was responsible for what the teachers would do to me.

  • zenny

    how do i teach my kids values and what is acceptable behavior and what is expected of him. He just does not listen and constantly gets himself in serious trouble in school and home.

  • savemeto

    I have the exact problem with my son. Of course I know they “forget” to actually avoid. But what frustrates me is that for example I would tell to him to always please empty the bin. Now he would do that for some days and it would stop. When I then ask him why he stopped he would dead serious tell me he did not know I ever asked him to do that. That of course contradicts totally to his action as he did it just a few days ago.

    Now I don’t know if he is really lying just to save his ass – which is strange – or he really is losing his memory.

  • ronitbaras

    It really depends on how old your child is.
    I would doubt he is really losing his memory.
    The best way to check is to see if he forgets things that are very important to him.
    Doing things just to please mum or dad is not strong enough to keep in memory.

  • ronitbaras

    One way of teaching values is being a role model.
    This does not mean you are not a good role model but it may mean you are not good at marketing your values.
    Part of being a parent is ” sales”. Parents are sales people. They sell their kids their attitude, philosophy values and rules. If your kids is not following it , it only means he didn’t buy it.
    so, there are two reason why kids behave like that.
    1. It can be that the product is not good
    2. The person selling it is not a very good sales person.

    Find out where you need to fix.
    Good products in the hand of a good sales person, is a winning formula.

  • ronitbaras


    Read some of the comment reply I wrote to other readers.
    Try to find out if there is something bothering him.
    It is never Intentional.
    No one forget things on purpose. ( I wish we could forget what we didn’t want o remember. we have a denial mechanism that does that for us in trauma but we have no control over that mechanism)
    If kids forget things they need help, not bad labels

  • ronitbaras

    Some of the reason people forget things are due to physical conditions.
    When we are tired, we tend to forget things.
    Ask any mum who must wake up at night to a crying baby and she will tell you it is hard to think in the morning.
    I have a fantastic memory and master the art of remembering. I can work long hours and can stay focused and work long after everyone else can’t function. One day, after having to stay awake for too long, I found myself using my deodorant as a hair spray and instead of my hair being shiny an smooth, it was sticky. What do you think I did? I sprayed it 3 times until I figured out that I am using a deodorant.
    Being stressed can do the same thing. The brain is busy with trying to handle the stress that it is too occupied to keep things in memory.
    Some people don’t have very good time management or organisational skills. It is possible to develop those skills at all ages.
    Establishing systems and routines to remember things is the best way to overcome being forgetful.

  • ronitbaras


    That seems like doing things out of fear not from understanding the value of doing your homework.
    Kids doing things out of fear are not as successful as kids doing it out of love.
    There is such a thing as ” love of homework” and the love for homework good teachers can instill in their students with love and not by fear.
    Just imagine how wonderful your life would have been if you came home at the end of the day can’t wait to do your homework?

    I wouldn’t blame kids for this. it is the teachers responsibility to do that. I worked with kids that begged for more homework and not because they were afraid but because those who did their homework, had privileges everyone wanted.
    It is best to make the homework attractive, rather than make the not doing your homework painful.

  • savemeto

    Thanks a lot for your reply. I do agree in both, that if he does not forget stuff that is important to him, he most probably does not have a medical condition. Also I agree that doing parents a favor is not a reason for him to memorize. But don’t you agree that there is a difference when he actually does how the parents told and after some days honestly says he never ever did that in his entire life? Forgetting to do something is one thing – but not remembering that an event ever occurred is another.

    He is 13 btw but I think it’s just a way to save his ass

  • ronitbaras

    I agree. he is just saying it to save his ass.
    He has no problem with forgetting. He is just saying it to get you off his back.
    But if you know that he is doing it, it should not be effective anymore as an excuse.
    Maybe don’t ask him “Do you remember you did it last week?” then he won’t have to pretend he never did.
    Just say. You are able to do it and I expect you do keep doing it. No questions, no opportunity to play the game.
    13 is the age to test the boundaries.It is normal. Just tell him, this is what you have to do and if he says, I have never in my life emptied the bin, you tell him, OK, than this is the time to start. If he says why? say why and explain 3 times and after the third time, say, “Because I said so” and keep repeating in a calm voice, Now it is time you empty the bin and say it over and over again, (in a clam voice, don’t get angry, if you get angry, you are not in control and this is when he knows he can stretch the boundaries) Son, ( I don’t know his name) now, you need to empty the bin. Don’t give up and every time he needs something from you, keep saying “now it is time for you to empty the bin”
    Trust me, it works.
    Thousands of parents went through my workshops using the same strategy and it works magic.
    The formula is.
    Tell him what he needs to do
    Say it in a positive way ( instead of what not to do)
    Be calm
    Explain up to 3 times why you expect him to do it
    Keep calm all the way
    The forth time, say ” Because I said so”
    repeat in a calm voice that he needs to do it, until he does that.
    Good luck!

  • Eric

    You ronitbaras and people whom think like you are the problems with society today. Why do u think there are so many crimes, carelessness, why is unemployment at an all time high, ext. Most of it is due to lack of discipline period. All i hear from your posts are excuses. Yea u jumble some words together that make u sound smart and like u know what your talking about. And u do, your just flat out wrong. There is no punishment anymore. Kids aren’t afraid or respect cops or laws because they don’t respect authority because they don’t have Conciquences like they used to. They are coddled and expect there parents to bail Em outta trouble or not be in any period. I am glad i was raised in a strict fsmily. Oh and my so WAS forgetful and i tried all this coddling bs aand it didn’t wirk. But grounding sure as heck did. And u don’t punish all the theme and when u do u make sure they know why and understand why. I was in the service and I’ve seen how undisciplined children then out. More and more shootings and more and more killings by kids. Lack of fear or respect. So u keep preaching your silky little words. I pray no one listens. Don’t bother writing me directly because i dobt wanna hear more of your inaccurate statements because i won’t be reading.

  • ronitbaras

    Dear Eric,

    If you really want to know my opinion, than I think we have problems in our society because we lack education, lack boundaries, because our society is very stressed and are in the fight and flight mode.
    Kids need boundaries but not discipline.
    In education, we call them safety boundaries. We help them reconsider the consequences of working within and without the boundaries of our society. For example: if we don’t want to raise criminals, we show them the rewards of being a good citizen, of being honest and true to yourself, considerate, compassionate – we don’t punish them and teach them through pain to learn to be honest and caring.
    If we want to teach them to be creative, we teach them the boundaries and tell them to break them over and over again.
    Respect can not develop through pain.
    If you want your kids to respect you, you need to earn it by modeling respect.
    If you confuse “following your order” out of fear with respect, I think you need think of your definition of respect.
    You need to be brave not to fall in the trap of looking at your childhood and say ” My parents punished me to instill respect and look at me, I came out quite good” and adjust parenting styles to 2014 rather than use ancient parenting methods.
    I am sad to say, the kids today, are better, way better than the kids in the past.
    Listen to yourself, you are so angry and dogmatic.
    Do you know that every abusive parent , always explains why they have abused their children?
    It is the same explanation always: You didn’t follow my orders, you didn’t do what I expected you to do.
    What’s this thing with explaining why you punish them?
    Where is the fine line between abuse and parenting?

    Do you think there is more shooting??????????
    You are in denial.
    There were more killing and shooting in the past, but less media coverage!
    You were with your head buried in the ground.
    Like the three monkeys, If I didn’t hear about it, it didn’t exist.
    Surprise, Surprise, The kids today are more critical of the media than you ever was.
    There were more killing, more shooting, more accidents, more crimes in the past than we have today and the crimes today are less violent than in the past.
    I think it is because the kids today are more educated and respectful than you were- Thank God!
    Denial is a bliss, isn’t it?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • ronitbaras


    I think you confuse rules and boundaries with discipline.
    Kids doing what you expect them to do only because you are their parent does not raise kids that know and understand why it is good for them to do things.
    Doing things out of fear, is not a good reason to do things.
    The second they leave home, and you are not there to scare them, they will do all the things you forced them to do by fear.
    Fear is not an incentive to do things.
    Never was.
    Fear is what brings those kids, when they are older, to see me in therapy.
    They carry fears and pain from silly things in childhood.
    It is better to set a rule that says: You can only watch TV after you finish your homework.
    This is incentive!
    This is a teaching method that works.
    What stays in the kids’ mind,is ” I have to finish my homework before I watch TV”.
    If you use your method,
    What stays in your kids’ mind is: ” my parent is nasty, mean, I must avoid being caught watching TV without finishing my homework, I hate homework, I better obey. Thank God, I don’t have to leave with him for the rest of my life”

    Your choice!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • ronitbaras


    Not all kids born the same.
    not being the best in school is not the end of the world.
    It is hard and some personalities are very sensitive to things happening around them and can’t focus.
    I would recommend finding thing that excites him and help him have many success experiences.
    Depending on his age, if you know what he wants to do when he grows up, you can get him to meet people doing that thing that inspires him and they will do a better job encouraging him to study harder.

    I found that associating with others who have the same interests can be motivating and inspiring for kids.

    Good luck
    Don’t give up!

  • Derek

    I have tried all the above. You name it, I have tried it. My now 14 year old son forgets homework all the time. He forgets to take his agenda into class and write down assignments. His grades are A+ and F’s .. nearly all the F’s are for homework. If I know about something, I can remind him and get it done but most times I do not know. I ask him every day what HW he has. He just forgets. I have tried rewards, threats, restrictions.. there does not appear to be anything that has solved it.

    It has been going on for nearly 3 years and next year he is in high school. He should be an A honors student but struggles to maintain a B because of so many F’s. I am at my wits end. I have considered dropping him out of honors but we would get exactly the same behavior in comprehensive classes.

    Last year it was mostly turning in the homework. Taking it out of his bag and putting it in the box. I just can not get him to do this simple task, or in the case of this year, take his agenda to class and write down the assignment into his book.

    Some have suggested I just let him fail but how does a parent do that? I can’t get any help from the teachers. He is in honors and expected to be able to do simple stuff like remember homework.

    He remembers most other things. Remembers to do his lunch every day. Can tell you everything about other countries, the battle of waterloo, the Greeks etc.

    I just can not comprehend how something that should be routine like taking his agenda to every class, every day and writing down assigns can not become routine.

  • Derek

    I know this is 3 years old.. but what happens when no punishment works? My son has been on restrictions for months. I have tried everything else. I have taken away all computer/play time. Rarely does the scenario you mention where the child fixes the issue the next day works because they do not want to go through that s%^# again.. that is not the symptoms of a forgetful child with the issues being discussed.

  • Derek

    This describes my son to a tee. I have tried everything and he still forgets homework. He alternates between A+ class work and F’s for homework.. or C/D in tests/quizes because of a lack of studying. I have had this issue since 4th grade and he enters high school next year. I reminded him every day for 8 weeks to go to lunch classes and forgot every time. He never writes anything down in his agenda even though I have told him this would fix most of his problems.. he rarely remembers to take his agenda to classes.. so frustrating.

  • ronitbaras

    HI Derek,

    There is something that I have learned which helped me a lot in life. Never say ” I have tried everything” because I haven’t tried everything. the opposite belief is : There is always a way, I just haven’t found it yet. with a big focus on the word ” yet!”

    The first question I have is “Why are you all that worried if he gets A?”

    Some kids do their homework in their head. The don’t need to write things down and are still very successful. Why nag them?

    The second questions is why use such methods like “rewards” and “punishment”

    Read this, it will help you find better methods.

    What do you mean he should be an A students? Why? Says who?
    He does not think that this is important enough. How long will you make the decisions of what is important for him?
    Some kids do not understand the importance of school and succeeding at school. There is no way of making the realize that importance. They have to get it by themselves. The good thing is that it is never too late and when they wake up, they do things much better.
    I had some people in my class that behaved so stupidly, honestly , the IQ in their head was so lonely it considered a suicide. I have met many of them after 20 years and they were successful people, executives, earning lots of money and doing amazing things.

    I think you can still ask the teachers for help.
    Kids who misbehave, have something that worries them, sometimes teachers can find things that parents can’t.

    It is a good observation that he remembers other things. it means he has a problem with the homework but not a memory problem in general.

    Take him to a day off, dad and kid fun day. ( make sure it is a school day, so he gets the idea that he is more important to you than school). remember, it is not bribing him and do not expect him to be 100% happy and over the moon, it is a starts thinking that his happiness is more important and that you will love him even if he fails in his schooling.

    Let us know how it went.


  • ronitbaras

    Punishments do not work, period!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    They can make the kid do things just to avoid the punishment so it backfires.

    It is better not to confuse rules and punishments or discipline .

    Being forgetful is an emotional state when the person ( not just children) have a challenge with regulating their memory.

    read this series about regulation to find out why it must be “self” and why when parents try to regulate it, it becomes controling.

    A child must have a good, internal reason to remember something. If he has no memory issue in general. if he forgets, pain or avoiding pain is not a good incentive to remember.


  • ronitbaras

    Hi Derek,

    It is very frustrating. I agree with you.
    How about you have a talk with him. ( with him, not to him) when you are both feeling good and happy and ask him how he feels and what he wants to do and what bothers him and just listen to his answers.
    ( don’t ask why is he forgetting things, he will justify himself and you don’t want him to hear himself justifying the forgetfulness)

    Don’t say anything, just listen, without judgment, without your agenda, just listen and whatever he says, say nothing! or just say ” I understand” ( even if you don’t understand)
    Ask just to allow him to say what is in his mind.
    This is what I will do as a coach and those kids will tell me things that are deep and insightful. Sometimes they just need a permission to express it. If I keep asking without judgment, without any agenda, they will come up with the solution themselves and even if they don’t say anything they change their attitude.

    Try, it is not easy to ask without judgment, without agenda and attachment to the answers you are expecting but when you do it, magic happens.

    Good luck! ( mmm,.. not that you need luck, you need persistent)


  • dayna

    Some of this seems to be giving my daughter permission to forget again. “its ok, we all forget.” yes thats kind. But in her mind, “sweet, no pressure, let the socialization resume.”
    Nope, I get the teacher involved, her on a point system to get privileges back. You have to remember repetitively to become a habit. That doesnt happen unless you train them not to forget.

  • ronitbaras

    We all forget. It is very natural. Kids and adults under pressure forget even more.
    It is a brain function and has nothing to do with the person’s ability. When we are stressed, we go into the primitive brain and over there we do one of two ” fight or flight” and there is not place for memorizing or retrieving information. In the primitive brain, this is luxury.
    I think you train kids to remember, no , you don’t punish them whenever they forget.
    It is good to find out when kids forget because they have no motivation to remember ( and you are right, we need to help them develop the motivation to remember ) and when they do it because they are under pressure.
    If they are lack motivation, we, the adults, their parents, their teachers, need to help them find that motivation, inside!
    If they are under pressure, we need to help them understand that it is not the end of the world, there is life after!
    If you want to read more about how to motivate them ( in a positive way!, without punishments and pain) you can read this book

    Happy parenting!

  • tanyiaka

    I have a 14years old female child she forgets easily and do not even appologize for her wrong doings,she basically forgets everything i ask her to do.when i ask her why she did not do what she was asked to do her usual answer is that “i forgot”.she barely shows love to her younger sister who is 6years old. My daughter is brilliant and is the best student in her class.please what should i do