We all know how it ends: Your child sets off to do something and when you check in on them later, whatever they were supposed to be doing is still undone. Or they keep forgetting things. Or you spend hours helping them revise their work and the results are worse than they have ever been. Why do some children seem to struggle to remember information? Why do they appear to forget things so easily? More importantly, are there any tricks that can help them improve their memory?
When your child first learns information, it is stocked in their working, or short-term, memory. It could get lost, or it could become part of their long-term memory. For many children, this information disappears, and it is not uncommon for them to struggle with retention.
Memory issues may be reflected in your child’s inability to remember things, constant forgetfulness (for example, forgetting homework at school) or having to be regularly reminded to do something. But there is good news: Several studies have shown that you can help your child to improve their long-term memory. Here are six easy ways to get started.
1. Establish a routine.
There are so many positive outcomes associated with routines. Routines help give your child a sense of security, reduce problems of inattention and strengthen their memory.
According to the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, the brain loses its ability to retain information over time. This is what is referred to as the forgetting curve. Ebbinghaus suggested that repetition can help flatten the learning curve. Establishing routines is therefore a simple way to make it easier for your child to retain specific information. For example, you can start a nighttime routine in which they are expected to do three things to prepare for school the next day.
Routines can also be helpful if your child is struggling with a specific school-related issue. For example, you can help them practice their reading, writing or dictation skills every Monday and Thursday, immediately after their snack break. It is through such repetition that your child learns, so don’t shy away from repeating the same information until it is mastered.
2. Have your child write down the things that matter most.
To-do lists and shopping lists work because there are very high chances that whatever is not on the list won’t get done. Encouraging your child to note everything important is an easy way to help them with their memory. Get them an age-appropriate diary and have them write down their homework assignments, their extracurricular activities and anything else they need to remember.
3. Try presenting information in a different way.
Young children sometimes need help to be able to remember information. Some kids may recall information better if it is presented visually; others will remember anything that rhymes!
A visual representation of what is expected of your child can make it easier for them to remember things. For example, they can take pictures of important information, or even use visual schedules to remind them of what they are expected to do as soon as they wake up or before they go to sleep.
If your child keeps forgetting what they need to take to school or what they need to bring back home from school, a visual representation of the items can make it easier for them to remember.
Creating rhymes with lots of repetition can also make it easier for your child to process new information.
4. Ask your child to repeat the information they have understood.
It is through repeating information that new knowledge moves from the short-term memory to the long-term memory. Asking your child to tell you what they have learned or understood, or even asking them to explain to you in their own words what their assignment involves, is an effective way of helping them memorize information.
5. Help your child cope with stress and anxiety.
Stress and anxiety can interfere with your child’s ability to remember things. It is important for them to know that they have your support and that learning new things may mean failing before that new information is permanently retained.
Teaching your child coping mechanisms, such as deep breathing or counting to 20, may help them to deal better with their anxiety. Ensuring that they are getting sufficient activity is also important for helping them release stress and for their overall well-being.
Insufficient sleep and rest may also explain your child’s anxiety. Ensuring that they are getting enough sleep therefore can improve both their mental health and their capacity to process information.
6. Reduce the number of instructions.
If your child keeps forgetting what they were supposed to be doing, or if their tasks or chores are always only half finished, that may mean that they have a difficult time processing information.
An easy way around this is to reduce the number of instructions they receive. For example, you can give them one instruction at a time, and ask them to come see you as soon as they have completed what you asked them to do.
If you are struggling with a child who seems to have a problem remembering things, take heart: Children’s ability to process information often improves as they grow older and develop new skills.