How to Help Forgetful Kids Remember Stuff

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“She forgets everything. She forgets to put her homework in her backpack at night. She forgets to empty her backpack in the afternoon. She leaves her lunchbox on the playground. Her room is a mess even after she cleans it! I have to remind her to do everything!” This exasperated mom isn’t alone. Lots of kids are forgetful. In this case, the little girl in question isn’t being willful, and the mom isn’t an enabler – she doesn’t do everything for her.

This forgetful little girl is overwhelmed at the end of the school day. She’s a bit of a dreamer and a highly creative thinker. Group projects are great for her. She gets to think out loud and engage with others. The rest of the school day is hard. She gets bored with worksheets and loses focus. This leads to extra homework. She gets lost in her thoughts and forgets where she puts things. This leads to heated emotions at home. This is not a behavior issue at all. This is a little girl who needs some assistance with organization.

If your house is anything like mine, you probably find things like clothes, towels, and socks right next to the laundry basket on any given day. So close!

Or perhaps you find homework on the table long after the kids left for school or unpacked lunch boxes on Monday morning containing the remnants of Friday’s lunch. Oops.

Some kids are naturally more organized than others, but most kids leave behind some trail of chaos at times. Instead of fuming over the disorganization, a better strategy is to find organizational strategies that work for your kids. Given that all kids are different, this can include some trial and error. 

{ MORE: Ever Wonder Why Parenting Is Just So Hard? }

Try some of these ideas to get your kid on the path to organization:

Talk it out.

My husband and I have completely different organizational strategies. I go into a mild panic when I see papers shifting around because I leave my to-do pile in a certain place until it’s done. He likes folders. We have different strategies, but we remain organized and get our stuff done.

I learned long ago that when I organize my daughter’s room the way that makes sense to me, she can’t find a single thing. I have to look through her eyes to help her find strategies that work for her, and that begins with talking about it.

What will help your forgetful child stay organized? Is the homework folder from school too easy to misplace? Would putting that folder in a three-ring binder help? Does the search for socks suck 20 minutes out of your morning routine each day? Would a sock and shoe bin near the front door take care of that problem? 

{ MORE: Entryway Organization Ideas for Busy Families }

Break down tasks.

Teach your forgetful kids to break down tasks into manageable pieces to help them understand that tasks have a beginning, middle, and an end. If your child’s evening chore is to “load the dishwasher”, for example, you want to break it down by saying, “first you move the dishes from the table to sink, second you rinse the dishes in the sink, and third you place the dishes in the dishwasher.”


Many young children become overwhelmed by more general statements and shut down as a result. The girl who always forgets to put her homework in her backpack was simply told to, “Complete her homework.” Technically, she completed her homework. What she didn’t do was put it back in her homework folder and put the folder in her backpack.

Use visual checklists.

The best way to help forgetful kids internalize the steps to completing a task is to write out a checklist and keep it somewhere central – the fridge is a good option. If you have a homework center in your house, place it there.

For the girl who forgets her homework, her list would look like this:

  • Unpack your backpack
  • Take out your homework
  • Complete your homework assignments
  • Place your homework in your homework folder
  • Pack your backpack with your homework folder
  • Place your backpack by the front door

With clear steps in place each day, she was able to complete her assignments and get them back to school independently.

Checklists also work well for self-care, particularly for morning and evening routines, as well as for household chores.

Establish daily routines.

Routines help young kids get into the habit of meeting their daily responsibilities. Routines also help kids know what to expect. For younger children, I always suggest making visual lists using pictures (ex: brush teeth, brush hair, put pajamas in laundry basket) and provide reminders to “check the list!”

Developing organizational skills takes time and practice, but when families work together, even the most forgetful and disorganized kids can learn to put things away and complete their daily tasks.

What do you think?

How to Help Forgetful Kids Remember Stuff

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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