Sorry, I Forgot. Did You Say Something?

Dear Mr. Dad: My daughter is a really good kid, but she can’t seem to remember anything for more than five minutes. We constantly have to harp at her about things that should be habits, like brushing her teeth every morning. Is there something wrong with her? Why can’t she remember to do things like that on her own?

A: Unfortunately, you and your daughter aren’t living in the same world—at least not at the same time. In your world, people remember to brush their teeth (but do you always floss?). In hers, there are so many other things going on that it’s easy to get distracted. Things that seem critical to you may not even be on her radar at all. So expecting her to act like a mini adult is unrealistic.

What I’m getting at is that from what you’re describing, it’s pretty unlikely that there’s anything wrong with your daughter’s memory, other than losing track of time or having her priorities in a different order than yours. That said, there are a few steps you can take to keep her on track.

  • Have her take care of personal hygiene first thing in the morning. Most of us hit the bathroom as soon as we get up, and rather than letting her come out and eat breakfast or start her day, make sure she gets the teeth brushing, hair combing, and whatever else out of the way first.
  • Buy stock in 3M (the maker of Post-Its). Put up reminders in places where she tends to forget things. One on the bathroom mirror for teeth and hair, one on the dishwasher saying “Unload Me,” one on the clothes dryer saying “Fold me”—you get the point. The important thing is to put these reminders where she’ll see them on a regular basis.
  • Alternatively, stop reminding her. You may think that you’re doing the right thing by bugging her constantly, but you might actually be making the problem worse by increasing her dependence on you. If you stop reminding her for a few days, she’ll probably come around shortly.
  • Children don’t have a lot of power so they often act out in ways that give them some control over their lives. It’s entirely possible that her “forgetting” to brush her teeth or anything else is her way of rebelling against you. Stranger things have happened. If you think this might be the case, taking the approach in the paragraph above might reduce some of the friction.
  • Keep paying attention. While most kids are going to forget things from time to time, your daughter’s issue might be a bit more than just being easily distracted or forgetful. If you try a few different approaches and nothing seems to work, you may want to have her pediatrician weigh in. There are a number of conditions that can produce behavior like this, including Asperger’s, ADD, ADHD, and even high-functioning autism (of which Asperger’s is a subset). Of course, no parent wants to believe that his or her child has any kind of disability. But it’s not as bleak as you might think. Mental health concerns are more easily diagnosed today and most require little if any medication. In fact, many of them can be managed by modifying behavior, counseling, and being supported by a loving, caring parent.

Again, the chances are good that your daughter’s behavior is completely normal, but stay sharp and be willing to go the extra mile if it seems like there’s something else at work here.