If you live with small children, you know that getting them through the day can be very challenging. They forget to do tasks, they leave important items behind and they are easily distracted. In fact, supervising little ones reminds me of a video I recently saw of someone trying to get his bunny to run an obstacle course. Needless to say, the bunny didn’t smoothly move from beginning to end. Like the bunny, children frequently run off course, ending up in all kinds of places where they shouldn’t be and lacking the things they need. How can we help them remember what they need to do, what they need to bring and where they need to go? Here are a few tips:
#1. Be Predictable
Unlike adults, children have a tough time anticipating what comes next. Time tends to be divided into the “now” and the “not now.” This makes it hard for them to remember anything that isn’t relevant to the current moment. However, children are also teachable. They thrive on routine and repetition. Have you ever noticed how children love to watch the same movie over and over? Children find this pleasurable because they have learned what will happen next. They don’t need to be anxious or fearful because the outcome is known.
To the extent possible, parents can assist children by establishing routines that help children remember what will be happening and what they need to do. For example, you might establish “five tasks we do each morning before we walk out the door” or “three things we need every time we go to school.” Say and do things in the same manner, over and over and over. Before long, children will catch on to the system, which will help them follow through. Keep telling yourself, “Repetition breeds remembering.”
#2. Make Your Child the Teacher
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
~ Benjamin Franklin
If we can teach it, we have a better chance of remembering it. Adults and children alike tend to internalize only a fraction of what we are taught by someone else… the old “in one ear and out the other.” In contrast, when we are responsible for doing the teaching, we must fully understand the material, making it much more likely that we will recall it in the future. Think of the difference between being a driver and a passenger. You can sit in the passenger seat and not ever take serious notice of how to get somewhere. However, if you are the driver, the responsibility for knowing where to go is on your shoulders, so you will invest more energy into making sure you know the way.
As you establish new routines, review them with your children, and then ask them to teach someone else what to do. They could tell another adult, a sibling, a stuffed animal or even the family dog. If they can “tell the story” to someone else, they have a much better chance of internalizing the instructions.
#3. Add Visual Reminders
The majority of human beings are visual learners. Given that young children often have limited reading skills, they benefit even more from images that remind them what to do. For example:
- Picture labels on toy bins and cubbies
- “List” of images showing what needs to be in their bag each morning
- Pictorial reminders of activities that are planned for each day of the week
- Visual chores charts for morning & evening tasks
When children make mistakes, forget what to do or ask what they need, refer them back to these visual reminders. Then praise them when they follow through.
#4. Stay Positive
In an effort to be helpful, parents often find themselves saying, “Don’t forget this!” or “Don’t do that!” Over time, the “don’ts” become an unpleasant soundtrack that children tune out. No one enjoys repeatedly hearing a laundry list of things they should not do.
Instead, use positive, action verbs when reminding children. For example, instead of saying, “Don’t forget to bring your lunch,” try saying “Carry your lunch to your cubby!” or, “Grab your lunch and let’s head to the car!” Focusing on what children can and ought to be doing creates a constructive atmosphere. When children feel empowered to act in the right way, they are more likely to respond and cooperate.
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Have you had success with any of these techniques? What would you add to the list?