Science Made Simple #1: Do you have a forgetful child?

Every day we prompt ourselves with reminders to carry out important tasks.

The act of remembering to carry out a task or action at a future point has been coined prospective memory by psychologists. Despite our best efforts, sometimes we need a little prompt or a reminder — whether it be a note in our calendar or an alarm on our smartphone.

Young children can also be forgetful.

Telling your child not to forget something can feel like an all too familiar routine. The importance of using strategies to compensate for memory failure becomes increasingly important as a child grows older as they encounter a number of environments.

For instance, doing chores at home, or remembering several instructions given by their teacher and completing work by deadlines at school.

A recent study by Australian researchers looked into children’s awareness of of their cognitive limits and if they knew to use reminders for themselves to compensate for this.

Children aged 6 to 13 years were required to remember one or three future actions in a computer game with an option to use a reminder.

The results of this study and previous studies, highlight that children as young as 3 are aware that memory will let them down in cognitively demanding tasks.

While children of all ages in this study recognized that a greater number of actions would be more difficult to remember, surprisingly only older children aged 9–10 years knew to use a cue to remind themselves.

This is supported by other research that shows children only compensate for their memory failures around 9–10 years. In this case, there appears to be a gap between what children know about their cognitive limitations, and use of active strategies they use to keep themselves from forgetting.

So, what does this mean for our children? It may mean that nagging them not to forget their lunch box or their permission slip may not be the best way to tackle this issue.

How can we help our children?

By making using our environment and creating external reminders that can be triggered when they need it the most, we can offload some of the things they need to remember.


· Set visual reminders — timetables for homework chores, visual reminders of daily activities i.e. such as items to pack in their bag for school. Reminders can be strategically placed such as behind the bedroom door or in the kitchen.

· Place important items within your child’s eye line, such as leaving your child’s lunchbox out on the kitchen bench before school.

· Checklists — For little ones who aren’t reading yet, picture items can substitute written words)

Thanks for reading.

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